Yes. Great news. Strut have been good to us in their two decades as a label, and one of the undisputed highlights of their catalogue is the Nigeria 70 series. As such, it makes perfect sense that Strut should grace us with a new instalment as part of their 20th birthday celebrations. No Wahala: Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987 is another peerless collection of Lagos boogie tunes. Features Sir Victor Uwaifo, International Brothers Band and Etubom Rex Williams among others.
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I love compilations like Nigeria ‘70 because, although they must inevitably exclude notable luminaries from a particular scene or genre, they are democratic; they allow for a diverse amalgamation of music to be considered as one sprawling whole and brought into the conscience of people that might not have heard about it at the time ('Now That’s What I Call...' you are most certainly exempt from this). Nigeria ‘70 is one such democratic exercise. It is a collection of compilations made by Strut Records of Nigerian music in the 1970s and 1980s, taking in blues, funk, afrobeat, afro-funk, and juju. It was taken from songs from ‘73 to ‘87, so not too long after Nigerian independence from the British control. I feel like I can hear some of the joy of freedom in this record, but also perhaps some of the recognition of the conflict around this time, especially listening to songs like ‘Black Precious Colour’ by Felixson Ngasia & The Survivals, who sing about ‘sisters and brothers fighting together’ and the ‘war everywhere’. I don’t want to get too po-faced about this because it’s a bloody great record. This particular edition was compiled by Duncan Brooker, and it marks the first time these songs have been released outside of Nigeria, indicating a pleasing lack of Western influence especially, this is not a compilation for fair-weather, William Onyeabor fans.
Compilations like Nigeria 70 are a snapshot of a particular time, from the broad political statements encouraging unity from Felixson Ngasia & The Survivals, to the gorgeous warm tape hiss that’s on every single track. ‘Onuma Dimnobi’ almost made me spit out my Werther’s because the initial vocal melodies awoke a dormant memory of listening to this somewhere but I can’t for the life of me think where, and that’s all I have to say about that (sorry if you were expecting something more profound). This particular song is one of the standout tracks, it’s got a gorgeously dense feel, full of polyrhythms and skittering beats, Sir Steady Arobby’s lovely, husky voice, as well as that vocal melody. The first track, ‘Oni Suru’ by Odeyemi, also deserves a mention because it perfectly sums up the spirit of the collection: joyful and dynamic, but not without a vague and unsettling apprehension.
I would love to write five times as much on this album, focusing on Nigerian independence and its relation to this collection, the way compilations capture a kind of strange lightning in a bottle, as well as discussing the merits of compilations themselves, not to mention the nature of musical memories, but alas I must stay pithy and to the point (that’s how we roll at Norman) and simply say that it is a beautiful collection of songs made in Nigeria from 1973-87.
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