Various ‘Nigeria Special. Vol. 2 Modern Highlife and Nigerian Blues 1970-76’ 3LP/CD (Soundway) 4/5

Soundway are making a virtue out of their ongoing series devoted to Nigerian music and this latest volume rightly places emphasis on the less known aspects of the 1970s music scene, namely highlife and blues alongside the ever popularjuju. This makes a very pleasant departure from the sometimes fiery tempo of Afro-Beat and Soundway are to be congratulated for their wide-ranging selection of extremely obscure 45s from the artists contained within. One of the revelations of this compilation is the influence of the blues upon Nigerian music and how this manifests itself in its localised interpretation. A fine example is to be found in the lovely blues-inflected hues on guitar of ‘Psychadelic baby’ by Fubura Sekibo with incessant percussion. More laid back in approach is the irresistible dancefloor groove of Etubom Rex Williams and his Nigerian Artists who deliver a cool collective chant with warm saxophone solo on ‘ISIP 2’. In general there are some wonderfully inventive names of groups throughout with perhaps pride of place going to the Professional Seagulls Dance Band of Port Harcourt and the delicate intro to ‘Ibi awo iyi’ before horns enter and the tempo shifts decisively upwards. Classic juju sounds arrive in the shape of James Etamobe and his All Weather Band with a relentless percussive beat on ‘Agboyabakpa’ while highlife from the masterful Bola Johnson and his Easy Life Top Beats impresses on ‘Jeka Dubu’, with a more uptempo take on the genre being offered by Commander in Chief Stephen Osita and his Nigerian Sound Makers on ‘Onyeb chi’. Afro-Beat is not altogether forgotten with one number, the intriguingly titled ‘Lords prayer’ (though bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the original) by the Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination, displaying the influence of Fela in the group sound. Overall a truly excellent overview of much neglected side to Nigerian music internationally, certainly outside West Africa, and re-mastered 45s that retain all the clarity and power of when they were first released. As always with a Soundway release, much care and attention to detail in the evocative visual cover and informative inner sleeve notes.

Tim Stenhouse