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V/A - Lagos Disco Inferno

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Artist: V/A

Album: Lagos Disco Inferno

Label: Academy

Review date: Jun. 1, 2010

The glut of comps and reissues showcasing the deepest, rarest African funk, soul and rock cuts from the 1970s and beyond has been one of the more exciting developments in the past 10 years of music, certainly more meaningful than electroclash, chillwave, freak folk or any number of modern here-today-gone-tomorrow trends. Unearthing an essentially secret history of music, these compilations have gradually carved out a new canon and sparked more than a few fires under musician’s asses.

The one that, as far as I can recall, started it all was the Nigeria 70 comp on Strut. Before that came out, ‘Africa’ sections at record stores were too often limited to the superb Fela Kuti reissues, some crap on Putomayo and a few very parent-friendly Salief Kieta CDs. Suddenly, though, in their midst appeared a collection of tracks which placed Fela’s dirty, political funk bombs at the center of a diverse scene. One assumed there had to be more where that came from, but what has come since then has exceeded expectations by degrees. Off the top of my head, I can name: both volumes of Ghana Soundz, Afro Baby, Love is a Real Thing, tons of weirdness from Honest Jon’s, a whole slew of Mulatu Astatke reissues, the Terp catalogue, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, and of course the Ethiopiques comps, which had an early start. And there are a bunch more, too.

No complaints so far, but one thing always confused me. Buried somewhere in Nigeria 70 was an 11+ minute-long disco burner of unprecedented deepness. Shina Williams’ "Agboju Logun" is one of the most serious disco tracks one is likely to hear in their lives, with a pitch-perfect combo of north African polyrhythms and American space disco synth soloing. If you have not experienced it yet, I implore you to find it, pronto. The only problem is that since it surfaced, there hasn’t been much more like it. Instead, we’ve gotten a ton of big, badass funk, Afrobeat, weird psych, jazzy nightclub jams, highlife and solo guitarists. But where’s the disco? Soundway promised as much with Nigeria Disco Special, but, although exemplary, it didn’t really tap into disco’s infinite, supple terrain as much as the brassy side of funk. Since hearing "Agboju Logun," I’ve had my fingers crossed, hoping for more. Finally, my prayers have been answered.

Frank Gossner’s Lagos Disco Inferno is a triumph of a comp, assembling a wide range of disco and boogie sounds from a moment of riotously creative activity. The liner notes paint a picture of a post-war party of unprecedented proportions, "the era of sheer ecstasy," and the music attests to as much. Here, disco is not the shiny, goofy crap that spawned "Disco Sucks" t-shirts and novelty records, but instead a wide-open canvas for profound body connections, a forum where dancing takes on near-transcendental qualities, where partying isn’t a distraction but a full affirmation of the deepest communal joys.

Opening with Doris Ebong’s "Boogie Trip" was definitely a good call. Doris invites us in with a warning: "This is the one I call the boogie trip. This going to be expensive trip because it will cost you your love, your man, all of your money, everything. So now I want everybody get up, put on your dancing shoes, and do it while I sing." A troubling proposal, yet she sounds so relaxed, goofy and sexy, how can you resist? By the time we get through the first chorus, and she says "yeah now the boogie trip is on, and we’re all getting together for the boogie celebration," you’re like a fish released back into the waters, the mellow, driving groove pulling you in, massaging your pleasure centers and getting you nice and loose. It certainly sounds like a party, with rooster calls, helicopter synths, some slack rapping and upbeat crowd sounds. What an absolute jam.

The 11 songs that follow lay out a wide-open spectrum of disco possibility, ranging from Geraldo Pino’s instrumental space funk to MFB’s contemplative slow burn to the absolutely dripping wet vibes of Asiko Rock Group. While occasional lyrics touch on political themes, the bulk of the material is devoted to issues like who should get down (everybody), types of desirable women (bad city girls and good time mamas), and how you should take life (easy). Yet the music hardly feels like a diversion, so infused with energy, passion and inventiveness as to elevate these potentially pedestrian topics to social imperatives. After all, why shouldn’t everybody get down?

There is perhaps a double meaning to Doris Ebong’s introduction, one that would have special significance for the compilers, especially "record hunter" Damian Iwuagwu. "To be candid with you," he writes, "finding records here is real work… I’m going from state to state, village to village, staying up to 24 hour… At times, when I pack my bag to travel, my children will be crying. Sometimes, I will hide from them so they don’t see me moving but this is a work I enjoy doing…" Sounds like an "expensive trip" to say the least, but the result is clearly a labor of love. Not only did he find the records, but the artists themselves have also been located for licensing, with exception of Ebong.

Songs of this caliber are as humbling as they are exciting. That music of such vibrancy could emerge from the ashes of a brutal war is perhaps not surprising but still astonishing. That these anthems of communal joy translate so clearly across decades, cultures and, at times, language barriers is a testament to the music’s fundamental power and – I’ll say it – universality. Closing with Nana Love’s "Hang On," Lagos Disco Inferno sends you back into the world with an epic, almost quarter-hour-long roof-raiser that could definitely go head-to-head with Shina Williams. I think she says something about "don’t go far away, disco baby," but no lyric sheets are needed to navigate this emotional terrain. Ridiculous "yeahs" and "uhs" abound, with horns and synths blending in a gloriously hissing smear, solos and chants overlapping, all punctuated by a few key breakdowns. After 11 tracks of kaleidoscopic ebullience, this victory lap of a song boils it all down to the raw distillation of pure feeling. Feel it.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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