The Rough Guide to Highlife/Electric Highlife
Highlife as Pop and Not
The Rough Guide to Highlife (World Music Network)
Although the label's second pass at this expandable concept--which as has been its regrettable recent practice isn't marked as such anywhere on a package that in this case is orange and bears the serial number 1280CD--tends quirkier and quieter, in-house compiler Rachel Jackson goes for the gut tunewise. From the surprising pre-Afrobeat Fela who opens to the gospel falsetto-as-girl group who close, every song stands out, so much so that Jackson really could have risked Celestine Ukwu's "Osundu" rather than repeating the oft-compiled "Igede." Special faves: the Black Beats' "Tsutsu Tsonemo" for hook, Gentleman Bobby Benson's "Taxi Driver" for lyric, Francis Kenya's "Memia" for guitar compression, and Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe's "Osondi Owendi" for guitar expansion. There's a slight tailoff before the gospel closer, but not so as to spoil your appetite for the bonus disc by the university-based trio Seprewa Kasa. On Riverboat four years ago, I found their preservationism a mite polite. Here the same album provides a graceful, restful, informative coda. A
Electric Highlife: Sessions From the Bokoor Studios (Naxos World '02)
Ghanaian-Nigerian highlife was a pop music not just because it was urban and popular, but because it produced something resembling hits and stars‑-in their world, the Victors Uwaifo and Olaiya were genuinely famous. Not these eight early-'80s guitar bands John Collins recorded in Accra. As all too part-time musicians in a ruined economy, they share a likably ramshackle feel, which infused by the good cheer they mustered in the face of 100 percent inflation is enough to sell this collection. But I noticed a funny thing when I looked closely at the second Rough Guide to Highlife, which is that its two finest tracks began their public life at Bokoor: the hummable one by the Black Beats, who had a long if varied career elsewhere, and the musicianly one by Francis Kenya, who seems to have been Collins's greatest protege. Think there were some players over in Ghana? Must have been. A MINUS
This World Music Network practice of issuing an almost completely different album under the same title is a bit strange. [Milo mentioned it before on another thread, I think.] There seems to be only one title in common between the new Rough Guide to Highlife and the first one, which is Celestine Ukwu's "Igede". Most people who are interested in the music will want to explore, I don't think calling it "Rough Guide to Highlife Vol 2" would put anyone off. Or they could vary the title a bit, which they have on other albums. But they've a great track record in general.
Yesterday was a moment of celestial grace in the desert at 1:00 am. And Sunday, when they played Tucson, was this --
"Plus, we were opening up for Bob Log III. He’s a performer who wears a motorcycle or ski helmet with a microphone stuck in it. He plays slide guitar and has a set-up where he plays drums with his feet. He’s hilarious and an amazing showman. He hadn’t played his hometown in Tucson for awhile so a good crowd was expected."
What a world . . .
I don't know how much overlap it has with the one Milo mentioned, but I have Koola Lobitos 1964-1968/The 69 LA Sessions, and to my ears it sounds lighter but just as pleasurable as the prime 70s stuff. Plus the songs are short (16 tracks total!), so the lesser ones are over faster.
Glad to see this board is still buzzing; sorry a copyedit is the most substantial contribution I can make at the moment.
Best to all.
"any one know of a good pre-Afrobeat Fela collection?"
The only pure pre-Afrobeat collection I know of is Lagos Baby 1963-1969 which can be had pretty cheap these days on the Vampi Soul label. Of course, it's Fela stumbling around, doubling back, finding his way and getting his (not-expensive-yet) sh!t together, so I would not call it a compelling listen. For serious fans/completists only. I'm one.
(Yeah, Clankface always seems to get hot bolts around this time of day. Don't have any idea what the poop is with that.)
As a follow up, any one know of a good pre-Afrobeat Fela collection?
This Electric Highlife is great album, lots fun. Kinda got lost in the shuffle back in 2002 when I bought it. That was the year of both Specialist In All Style and Nothing in Vain, two absolute classics. Add to that the re-issued Pirate's Choice and Djelimady Tounkara's Sigui and you see what I mean. Then about 5 years later I threw it in the car on a whim during a long road trip, loved it, and now I play it all the time in the car. Full A for me.
My local record shop one again came though and had the new Rough Guide comp in stock. Had a great breakfast burrito too. Now if I could only get them to stock Strawberry, if not the whole Wussy catalouge.
So I'm doing my stretching, early into the record, with "Taxi Driver" in my ears, "If you marry taxi driver, I don't care, If you marry lorry driver, I don't care . . ." all that, when I hear "Hotel California" bleed in around my ear buds.
So now what do I do? Does Don Henley need to be notified? Are Gentleman Bobby's heirs in legal trouble? Maybe somebody owes Frank Ocean some money? And what about me, do I have a liability now? This is all so confusing.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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