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