Third Time is the Sweetest

Nigeria 70 - Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju from 1970s Lagos
Nigeria 70 – Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju from 1970s Lagos (Strut Records STRUT079CD, 2011)

The third volume in Strut Records’ Nigeria 70 series is another luscious helping of music from a time when Nigeria’s oil industry was booming, post-independence prestige was still riding high despite the aftermath of the country’s bloody civil war, and music was largely an affordable luxury for those who wanted to pursue it and those who wanted to listen to it. Just as importantly, it was when the popular music of Nigeria (and elsewhere in Africa) mixed tradition with soul, funk, psychedelic and rock sounds from across the ocean. Thus the nearly 80 minutes of music here has a mainly celebratory feel. Even on a music-with-a-message tune like Eji Oyewole’s “Unity in Africa,” it’s the rousing groove that slays you well before any deeper meaning (which this whole album in no way lacks) comes into play.

As the title promises, highlife is a main ingredient, though the added muscle of American funk and the emerging Afrobeat style is injected into a lot of it. Indeed, the works of such artists as Dr. Victor Olaiya and Soki Ohale sound as much influenced by James Brown and Stevie Wonder as any Nigerian precursors. But don’t let that fact (or the image of the glowering, Afro-coiffed dude on the cover) lead you to believe this isn’t Nigerian music through and through.

Polyrhythmic layers of sound that couldn’t be from anywhere but West Africa are abundant, and the centerpiece of the disc is a typically lengthy helping of juju music, courtesy of Dele Abiodun, that features an interlude of pure primal percussion. Another giant of juju, Ebenezer Obey, closes out the collection with the same blending of African rhythms and openness to outside influences that’s evident from the opening guitar plucking of Moneyman and the Super 5 International’s “Life” to the fadeout of Obey’s throbbing, London-recorded paean to the musical spirit of his homeland. That spirit, spunk and inventiveness is heard all through Sweet Times, an altogether first rate selection.

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