In recent years, there’s been an explosion of interest in African pop music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. One of the most important reasons for this newfound enthusiasm is the increased availability of high-quality compilation albums that showcase the vast body of excellent, genre-melding music that’s been produced across Africa in the last 50 years. N'joy
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The popularity of Ethiopiques—2009 marked the release of the 25th volume in the series—has spurred a number of other labels to follow suit by releasing collections of once-popular, now hard-to-find African music, largely from East and West African countries, and primarily from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Among those labels, Soundway Records has consistently put out some of the best compilations, starting in 2003 with Ghana Soundz: Afrobeat, Funk and Fusion in 70’s Ghana, the first entry in a two-volume series, which featured mostly out-of-print recordings from the ‘70s by long-forgotten African artists influenced by everyone from Fela Kuti to James Brown to Santana. Like Ethiopiques, the music on Ghana Soundz—mostly dubbed “highlife” in Ghana—is an exciting mix of soul, jazz, rock, and Afrobeat. Soundway’s latest compilation of African music, Ghana Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds, and Ghanaian Blues, 1968-81, continues right where the Ghana Soundz series left off, giving us more recordings, primarily from the ‘70s, by no less than 33 different artists, several of whom appeared on Ghana Soundz. Compared with Ghana Soundz, the tracks on Ghana Special are bluesier, more downtempo affairs, with fewer jams and more traditional songs, but all the hallmarks that made Ghana Soundz successful are retained. This collection is no less essential for fans of world and soul music.
Nearly every song on Ghana Special is a keeper, but a handful of gems shine brighter than the rest. “You Can Go”, by Bokoor Band, is a pop masterpiece with jangly electric guitars, soaring harmonica (played by British émigré and band cofounder John Collins), and the call-and-response vocals characteristic of Afrobeat. It’s sure inspiration for bands like NOMO and Vampire Weekend. “Obi Agye Me Dofo,” by Vis a Vis, is a midtempo jam, anchored by staccato hand drums, a buzzing Funk Brothers bass groove, synth string accents, and jazzy horn solos. “Twer Nyame”, from highlife progenitor Ebo Taylor, would sound perfectly at home on the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack, with its pitter-patter percussion, hot horn section, and stellar vocal harmonies. “Dr. Solutsu”, by Basa Basa Soundz, is a swinging, minor key romp featuring the wailing saxophone of Afrobeat ambassador Fela Kuti.
According to Soundway’s web site, Ghana Special was the result of nearly ten years of extensive research in cities across the West African coastal nation and involved visiting everyone from DJs and music store owners to ardent collectors and the musicians themselves. The collection, available as a two-CD or five-LP set, comes in a handsome booklet filled with photos, artist information, and essays.
The sound selection and production quality on Ghana Special is as good as anything in the Ethiopiques series, making it highly recommended and one of the best collections of African highlife—and popular African music from the ‘60s and ‘70s—available today.
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The 70s marked an era of relative tolerance in Ghana, one in which the massive explosion of creativity that engulfed Western popular music in the late 60s found its way to Ghana. There, Western music infused itself into Ghana's prevailing pop music style, Highlife, a gumbo of jazz, traditional rhythms and Liberian sailor songs that had dominated the popular music scene in urban Ghana since the 30s. It's worth noting that Fela Kuti's earliest bands were essentially Highlife bands-- Nigeria and Ghana shared heritage as former British possessions and the music scenes in both countries often moved in parallel, though Nigeria's was far better funded and more visible.
The experimental bands that sprung up in Ghana, taking on funk, psychedelia and fusion, never really deposed Highlife from the top of the Ghanaian charts (if such a thing can really be said to have existed), but hundreds of highly unique recordings nonetheless found their way onto locally pressed shellac discs in Ghana in the mid-70s and the era left behind a spoil of riches that's only beginning to come back to light, thanks largely to this disc, the first in what promises to be a series of three volumes.
These songs tread a startling range of ground, but a few things hold true across all of them: they're ebullient and virtually apolitical, and the rhythm is the key. The compilation kicks off with three breakneck, fantastic funk tracks that are impossible not to groove to. The Third Generation Band's "Because of Money" is full of tribal percussion and hypnotic guitar, but it's really "Bukom Mashie" by Oscar Sulley & The Uhuru Dance Band that brings things into high gear. The song slams in with a killer drum vamp and before you can even fully wrap your head around how awesome it is, the bassist drops this fantastically buoyant line that'll have you looking around for someone to high-five. A huge, sax-dominated horn section blasts out an odd mixture of hot jazz, spy theme-ish drama and dancehall celebration that sucks the breath from your lungs.
It's incredible how excellent each song here is. Marijata's "Mother Africa" is one of the best funk tracks I've ever heard, raw and filthy and tumbling along at ramjet tempo. Another personal favorite is Gyedu Blay Ambolley & The Steneboofs' "Simigwado", a strange tune built on a funky vamp that veers into spoken word passages (I'm not sure of the language) where Ambolley's flow picks up the rhythmic momentum and becomes the song's primary driving force. Honny & The Bees Band are the most overtly Western-influenced band here-- the backing vocals between verses sound almost like a Yardbirds guitar part. And then there's the shocking ring-modulated synthesizer solos that show up in the offerings from K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas and a band called The African Brothers. Rob's "Make It Fast, Make It Slow" practically sounds like a D'Angelo track, with its slow, trunk-rattling beat anticipating every sleazy bed track that ever cropped up on a hip-hop album.
You have to hear for yourself to truly understand the magnitude of what was happening in Ghanaian music in the 70s, unbeknownst to the rest of the world. This music sears, and the track selection here is impeccable. I've heard so many cheap-ass "world music" comps over the years that it's truly refreshing to hear one quite so expertly assembled-- it's not even presented as a world music compilation, so much as a collection of little-heard tracks that happen to be from Ghana. Ghana Soundz shines a long-overdue light on the best kind of music scene-- one in which creativity and simple joy took precedence over sales or posturing.
Pounding rhythms, blaring horns and pumping vocals – the music is a document of a time forgotten when flares and Cuban heels strutted the streets and night-spots of Accra, the sizzlingly hot and humid capital of Ghana. Influenced as much by traditional rhythms and local highlife as by the music of Fela Kuti, James Brown and Santana, these tunes had almost become extinct – until now! Ghana Soundz was the first of three collections of rare afro-beat, afro-funk and afro-fusion that Miles Cleret painstakingly travelled the length and breadth of Ghana to assemble,
VA - Ghana Soundz (flac 309mb)
01 The 3rd Generation Band - Because Of Money 5:50
02 Oscar Sulley & The Uhuru Dance Band - Bukom Mashie 5:05
03 Marijata - Mother Africa 4:52
04 Ebo Taylor - Heaven 6:02
05 Gyedu Blay Ambolley & The Steneboofs - Simigwado 4:28
06 The Sweet Talks - Eyi Su Ngaangaa 4:59
07 The Ogyatanaa Show Band - Ageisheka 4:59
08 Honny & The Bees Band - Psychedelic Woman 4:31
09 K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas - Hwehwe Mu Na Yi Wo Mpena 7:49
10 The Apagya Show Band - Kwaku Ananse 3:09
11 African Brothers - Self Reliance 8:31
12 Rob - Make It Fast, Make It Slow 5:24
13 Alex Konadu - W'awu Do Ho No 3:28
14 The Black Star Sound - Nite Safarie 3:24
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VA - Ghana Special I (flac 301mb)
01 Mercury Dance Band - Kai Wawa 3:01
02 T.O. Jazz - Owuo Adaadaa Me 2:52
03 Christy Azuma & Uppers International - Din Ya Sugri 7:03
04 The Barbecues - Aaya Lolo 3:48
05 Asaase Ase Ohiani Sua Efir 4:02
06 St. Peter & The Holymen - Bofoo Beye Abowa Den 3:15
07 City Boys Band - Nya Asem Hwe 4:51
08 Hedzoleh Soundz - Edinya Benya 3:17
09 Cutlass Dance Band - Hwehwe Mu Yi Mpena 3:18
10 Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings - Sei Nazo 3:02
11 Kyeremateng Atwede & The Kyeremateng Stars - I Go Die For You 5:23
12 Vis A Vis - Obi Agye Me Dofo 9:51
13 Ebo Taylor - Twer Nyame (excerpt) 5:22
14 The Big Beats - Mi Nsumõõ Bo Dõnn 3:39
15 Pa Steele's African Brothers - Odo Mmera 3:01
16 Ogyatanaa Show Band - You Monopolise Me 3:14
VA - Ghana Special II (flac 350mb)
01 African Brothers International Band - Wompe Masem 4:19
02 Gyedu-Blay Ambolley & His Creations - Akoko Ba 5:26
03 The Sweet Talks - Akampanye 4:27
04 Houghas Sorowonko - Enuanom Adofo 3:10
05 Oscar Sulley's Nzele Soundz - Bukom 3:28
06 Bokoor Band - You Can Go 3:22
07 K. Frimpong & His Cubano Fiestas - Kyenkyen Bi Adu M'Awu 6:57
08 Basa Basa Soundz Feat. Fela Anikulapo Kuti - Dr. Solutsu 3:22
09 Pagadeja - Tamale 3:11
10 Hedzoleh Soundz - Omusus Da Fe M'musu 4:58
11 The Uhuru Dance Band - Yahyia Mu 4:11
12 Dr. K. Gyasi & His Noble Kings - Noble Kings (Yako Aba) 5:46
13 The Wellis Band - Bindiga 3:25
14 Boombaya - Boombaya 3:39
15 Sawaaba Soundz - Owuo 4:20
16 Cutlass Dance Band - Them Go Talk Of You 3:30
17 Honny & The Bees Band - Sisi Mbon 6:47
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