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V/A - The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria

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Artist: V/A

Album: The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria

Label: Soundway

Review date: Jan. 4, 2011

The early 2000s have been a golden age for fans of vintage African pop and rock. Thanks to sets such as Buda Musique’s Ethiopiques series and Soundways’ Nigeria and Ghana Special releases (to name just a few), obscure African music of the 1960s and ‘70s — stuff that was once essentially impossible to find — is now fairly easy to obtain for those willing to look.

The most useful of these many releases all tend to carve out and shed light on a specific niche in what is a vast and varied musical world. Of the numerous collections to come out in 2010 alone, a standout is The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedlia in 1970s Nigeria, released by Soundways over the summer. The World Ends focuses on the groundbreaking sonics made in Nigeria following the three-year Biafran Civil War. A complicated, catastrophic uprising, the war disrupted the brief period of calm and progress that Nigeria experienced following the end of colonial rule in the late 1950s into the ‘60s and created a prolonged period of violence and uncertainty in the nation. The soundtrack of the West’s own contemporaneous descent into relative political tumult eventually found purchase with a newly emerging Nigerian youth movement that sought a more immediate, provocative sound than the highlife that had dominated the music scene for so long.

The artists on The World Ends have a strong musical kinship with their western rock counterparts in Cream, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. Lysergic fuzz-guitar and tripped-out organ licks pop up all over the set, punctuating more traditional Afrobeat and pop templates. Ofege, for example (whose debut full-length, Try and Love, was reissued on Academy Records this year), sets fire to the past on “In Concert,” an entirely studio-based creation built around hired gun Berkley Jones’s guitar and Francis Monkman’s synth (the latter of English proggers Curved Air). PRO strikes a more mellow pose, channeling Traffic and Blind Faith on the organ-driven ballad “Smokey Joe.”

Despite what the set’s title suggests, however, rock is far from the sole ingredient here. Indigenous styles like highlife weren’t completely abandoned, while Fela’s revolutionary groove clearly had its impact. American soul and R&B was obviously imported and absorbed in bulk as well. One can hear traces of Steve Cropper’s “Soul Man” guitar lick pop up on The Hygrades’ “Rough Rider,” transporting the listener from Lagos to Memphis and back again in a matter of seconds. Even the deepest of psych workouts, “Mr. Bulldog” by the Mebusas for example, are often built around a funky, indelible groove and punctuated by bright, JB’s-style horn arrangements.

At 33 tracks over two discs, The World Ends can be a tad unwieldy. Songs and artists fly by, and one is best served by letting the music simply wash over them in (occasionally overwhelming) waves. What ultimately makes this collection so stirring is that despite the umbrella of pysch and rock, it’s practically sundry. Sure, a general sound and style did emerge from America and England’s musical explosion of the late 1960s, but the reality is that so many chances were being taken and there was so much experimentation taking place that to lump it all under one heading is limiting; the same goes for Nigeria in the 1970s and the music on The World Ends. Everything from soul, funk and R&B to post-Beatles pop, and, yes, rock and psych went into creating an explosive musical movement. This might sound like quibbling, but it’s really a testament to the intense musical creativity on display here.

By Nate Knaebel

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