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V/A - Afro-Beat Airways: West African Shock Waves, Ghana & Togo 1972-1978

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Artist: V/A

Album: Afro-Beat Airways: West African Shock Waves, Ghana & Togo 1972-1978

Label: Analog Africa

Review date: Aug. 17, 2010

The element of surprise is gone. Listeners who were pleasantly startled nine years ago by Nigeria 70’s (Strut) revelation of the breadth of styles beyond Fela Kuti’s Afro-beat and King Sunny Adé’s Juju on offer from just one nation, or blown away by the riches proffered by the heaps of Ghanaian, Nigerian and Beninese sets supplied by the Soundway and Analog Africa labels since 2005, are by now totally spoiled. But if it’s hard to muster quite the thrill of anticipation for Afro-Beat Airways that one might have felt for Ghana Soundz 2 or African Scream Contest, that’s not the record’s fault. Give it some time and it’ll reward you with just as an experience just as rich and immersive as those sets.

And even more personal. Samy Ben Redjeb, the man behind Analog Africa, is not satisfied to simply dig up region after region’s complete vinyl-era history of groove music; he has to interview the surviving artists, pay them for their troubles, dig up vintage photographs, and tell the whole story in a booklet far fatter than you need to sell with a CD. He doesn’t just tell you about the bands and the labels, he also tells you what he was smoking when he first found a record, or what sort of travel mishap landed him in Togo (the source of roughly a quarter of this set’s tracks) in the first place.

So what do you get if you place yourself in his charge?: 15 (17 on vinyl) superlative examples of 35-year-old Afrobeat from Ghana and Togo, all sourced from the Phonogram label’s archives. Fela Kuti’s influence looms hugely over Ebo Taylor’s “Odofo Nyi Akyiri Biara,” with its stuttering cowbell beat and triumphant horns, or Orchestre Abass’s “Awula Bo Fee Ene,” with its insistent hi-hat tattoo, scratchy guitar, and gutteral singing. But Fela sure never delivered an organ solo like the tripped-out, churchy turn that bubbles up halfway through the latter tune. And while Rob’s maniacally precise “More” is full of moves lifted from James Brown and Isaac Hayes, its aggressive synth and breathless delivery is harder to place; this album is full of creation, not re-creation. It’s also splendidly paced, varying the tempo and intensity so that it’s no chore at all to play the thing all the way through even though it lasts nearly and hour and a quarter.

In a way, it’s better to be past the excitement that comes from novelty; there’s something just as satisfying about settling deeper into this music through the years.

By Bill Meyer

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