Crate diggers and rare musical magpies Born Bad give us another reason to love them with Francis Bebey's 'Psychedelic Stanza', a biographical compilation that combs through the best work of Cameroonian polymath Francis Bebey, who created a sound that could be groovy and raw at the same time, as finely textured as it was utterly sparse. This time they look at the '80s period of his recording career, which retains the same joyous spirit -- just listen to him sing.
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Another chapter in the fascinating musical story of Cameroonian renaissance man Francis Bebey that picks up where Born Bad’s previous ‘African Electronic Music 1975-1982’ compendium left off with more revolutionary sounds and trans-continental sonic explorations.
The desire to dive into the often intimidatingly vast wealth of African musical history - highlighted by the success of celebratory primers and comprehensive potted histories on Western labels like Soundway, Honest Jons, Strut, Kindred Spirits et al - feels at its most prevalent since the Ethiopiques compilations set the ball rolling back in the 90s. The interesting thing is that whilst typically any obsessed collector would cut off their hands to, conversely, get their hands on their chosen ’78 Nigerian boogie original or highlife first-press, there was a time when Bebey felt the music of the great continent was so under-represented in the Europe he made his home, he was compelled to make it his mission to bring the traditional Makossa sounds of his country to those Westerners that would, a generation later, launch trips to Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and other parts of the land to seek out and buy up whole swathes of ‘lost’ music to release on any number of specialist labels that sate a hungry desire for an audience who still get giddy to think that while Led Zeppelin were rinsing the Albert Hall in 1970, in Lagos comparable crowds were completely losing it to Fela and the Afrika 70. The awareness of simultaneous musical histories being forged in different parts of the world is like crack to the consumer of these reissues and also a huge part of the appeal outside of how insanely accomplished the music is - so it’s fair to presume that Bebey would be feeling particularly pleased were he alive today.
While ‘African Electronic Music’ focussed on Bebey’s lesser-known forays into the use of drum machines and synthesisers in his compositions, ‘Psychedelic Sanza’ is an education on his canny knack with a thumb piano: the eponymous ‘Sansa’. The sounds contained are a pure pleasure, the pieces - which have a unified air of thematic variants or experimentations - are at once spare in their dynamic but also dense with cerebral exoticism. Gentle conga rhythms are tapped out with irresistible bassline grooves forming the foundations for hypnotic and kaleidoscopic Sansa cycles and layered vocal incantations that appear to emerge arbitrarily from a deep meditation. The beauty comes from the accidental tertiary sounds created by the limitations of the thumb piano, the heavenly ascensions that recall the range of a marimba or xylophone are suddenly shrunken when a thumb runs against the wooden edge of the instrument and deadens the sound too quickly, or one of the blades is scuffed or not struck directly and you are reminded that this is a small instrument you can hold in both hands. The vocals behave similarly, Bebey's warm honeyed tones sometimes drawn out at length to turn dry and crack open into a multi-tonal drone that dominates the mix.
A totally mesmerising record and a huge recommendation.
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- Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984 by Francis Bebey
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