Sometimes you just want to kick your shoes off and relax and cut some rug. And with the first volume of Edo Funk Explosion you can, gloriously. Packed full of infectious, committed funk music from the Benin City of the late 1970s, there is a part of me that hopes the record will become the soundtrack to an increasingly carefree, virus-banished future. It’s an intoxicating prospect: sounds dug up from an often turbulent Nigerian past that can now, after 40 years, apply a healing balm to a fretful and lonely present. But for now we should note that Edo Funk Explosion is the latest chapter in the story of a remarkable label, Analog Africa.
Samy Ben Redjeb’s obsessive diggings into forgotten or marginal musical histories from the African and South American continents have (sometimes literally) unearthed sounds that have quietly set cultural agendas this past decade. That should come as no surprise as Analog Africa releases brilliantly reveal the age-old process of people listening to other things from elsewhere and then making something concrete and special from their imaginings. Something we can continue to celebrate. Previous label series, such as Diablos Del Ritmo, for example, have highlighted the crossing of music styles established on the seas routes between Colombia and the west coast of Africa. Edo Funk Explosion is yet another example of music’s essential, pollinating properties.
Edo Funk Explosion also documents the story of the 16-track Joromi studios, set up in Benin City by Sir Victor Uwaifo in 1978. Concentrating on three of the style’s big hitters (Osayomore Joseph, Akaba Man, and Sir Victor Uwaifo) the record goes for the jugular, aiming to get us up on our feet with half a dozen slabs of tough, enervating Edo Funk.
The backstory is one we’ve heard before in different places; a sound-obsessed Head – in this case Sir Victor Uwaifo – making crazed electronic sounds in a home-built studio in the late 1970s. Like Martin Hannett, King Tubby or Lee Perry, or Romania’s maestro of weird sounds, Rodion GA. Like these others, Uwaifo took local traditions and contemporary socio-cultural and political concerns and threw them all together like herbs in a pot of stew. There is a real sense of Uwaifo, Osayomore Joseph and Akaba Man and their respective bands really going for it here and probably why tracks like ‘Iranm Iran’ and ‘Aibalegbe’ feel utterly intoxicating.
None of the tracks sound like they were made to meet the requirements of a particular audience, they feel like the artists want to go to places fast, even if some sonic elements fall by the wayside or get battered by the ride. Sometimes this all-or-nothing attitude gives the music on this compilation a raw, punkish feel, though they are primarily built to make people dance. The aforementioned ‘Iranm Iran’ is about as funky a funk track as you can wish for. Slippery as an eel, the track wriggles through its allotted 5 minutes with a distinct feeling of elan. The low organ coming in sideways – and the funny chirpy squeaks and squawks that pop up on a lot of Sir Victor Uwaifo recordings – really grease the beat. ‘Aibalegbe’ gently moulds South American traditions into a spacy groove, mainly courtesy of a splurging synth. and ‘Orono No de Fade’ by Osayomore Joseph and the Ulele Power Sound also assembles itself loosely around a lovely, life-giving groove. The softer, maybe more reflective side of Edo Funk can be heard with Akaba Man’s bubbling ‘Ta Ghi Rare’, a pleasant seven minute brew full of mild psychedelics such as a weird squeaky synth, an ever ascending bubbling bass and an aqueous guitar lick that turns up to throw things off course five minutes in. Plus a beat that seems intent on playing footsie with the rest of the track. All in all a fantastically disorientating experience.
There is plenty of politics bubbling away under the surface. The opener ‘Africa Is My Root’, from Osayomore Joseph is a no nonsense funky stomp that is very much a pan-African rallying call. Joseph’s ‘Who Know Man’ and ‘My Name Is Money’ have the structural feel and direction of Fela tracks but the way both tracks are balanced on gentle guitar licks make them calls to shake hips to, than raise fists.
It’s a superb release.