Various ‘Afro-Rock Vol.1’ (Strut) 2LP/CD 4/5

This is actually a re-issue of an album that originally surfaced on CD on the little known Kora records back in 2001. Now augmented by a bonus cut, it is an excellent reminder of how the rare African funk/soul/rock scene has progressed in the subsequent decade with a plethora of compilations. Up until then European knowledge of funk-based African music was largely restricted to the Afro-Beat sounds of Fela Kuti. The music on offer covers a number of west and central African countries, but it is the American and even European external musical influences (French heartthrob Johnny Hallyday being among them for francophone Africa) which bring them together and provide the common denominator. James Brown was an obvious disciple for many African musicians, notably after his spellbinding concert in Kinshasa in 1974. For Sierra Leonian Geraldo Pino, Brown was a seminal influence with ‘Heavy. heavy, heavy’ betraying a strong American soul influence. Pino had moved to Lagos in Nigeria by 1968 and it was there that he was exposed to the rise of soul bands. The song featured here possesses a relentless rhythm with nice use of keyboards throughout. Brass laden and bass heavy is one way to describe the echoey produced Mercury Dance Band on ‘Envy no good’. In the band’s drum pattern, they are unquestionably influenced by Fela and the atmospheric recording (sounding like it was made in a cave!) gives a real punch to the song. One of the most melodic songs on the compilation is by Kenyan funk band Steele Beauttah and the simply titled ‘Africa’. This mid-tempo number from 1976 has funk rhythm guitar in abundance. Catchy rhythms also dominate on the Ghanaian soul of K. Frimpong and his Cuban Fiestas on ‘Kyenkyen bi adi m’hanu’ with gorgeous horns. This is arguably the compilation’s most impressive track with vocal chanting and trumpet solo. From 1974 ‘Fever’ (not the classic song immortalised by Peggy Lee) by Jingo has had parts one and two segued together over a driving chakacha rhythm complete with fuzzy synths, flute and rhythm guitar. Fully deserving of a second issue, this time round ‘Afro-Rock’ should reach a much wider audience.

Tim Stenhouse