SUNKEN TREA­SURE

Awe­some mu­sic from the ar­chives. This week, Thony Shorby Nwenyi

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - STUB - Donal Di­neen

Fela Kuti coined the term and pop­u­larised the form but the roots of Afrobeat stretch back be­yond 1970s Nige­ria. More than a decade ear­lier in nearby Ghana, the popular up­tempo high­life sound had en­tered a new era pow­ered by the ar­rival of the elec­tric gui­tar and am­pli­fi­ca­tion.

Kuti had stud­ied jazz at the Trinity Col­lege of Mu­sic in Lon­don a decade ear­lier. In Ghana, he ex­per­i­mented with merg­ing th­ese strands to­gether. He then took his hy­brid sound to the US in 1969 spend­ing 10 months in LA and dis­cov­er­ing the Black Power move­ment.

He was back in La­gos by 1970, hell­bent on start­ing fires. The suc­cess of his band Africa ‘70 sparked a ti­dal wave of Nige­rian funk mu­sic. That’s where Thony Shorby Nwenyi comes in. No bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tail of him ex­ists but it’s fair to as­sume that this gem of a record was born of the spirit of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that Kuti had in­sti­gated. All we know for sure is that the vol­ume of six songs was recorded in La­gos in 1978.

Like Kuti, Nwenyi sings in English but the his lyrics are more per­sonal than po­lit­i­cal with ti­tles such as Mar­ried Life and For­give­ness. His ex­pres­sive vo­cals are im­me­di­ately strik­ing but it’s the mel­liflu­ous wah-wah drenched gui­tar sound that sets the tone. Wa­ver­ing or­gan stabs un­der­pin the laid-back jams laid down by a rhythm sec­tion in­tent of hav­ing fun. It struts along at a lan­guid pace com­fort­able in its own danc­ing shoes. The whole thing is blessed with pal­pa­ble ex­u­ber­ance and vigour. It can only have meant a whole lot to its mys­tery maker.

The record was re­leased in Nige­ria on the tiny Feath­ers la­bel on tape and vinyl. The 2012 Melody Sound reis­sue is a rip from that press­ing and the poor qual­ity of the sound does noth­ing to di­min­ish its ap­peal. When groove is in the heart, ev­ery­thing else just flows.

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