We live in an era that’s obsessed with its own past, an era of revivalism, revisionism and retro-mania. As a result, each year we see more and more labels devoted to the business of reissues, whether they concern well known classics or more obscure releases. Analog Africa is one of the latter, specializing in compilations of -as you might have guessed- african music, with a focus on tracks originally released in the second half of the 20th century.
Founded by crate-digger (turned label-owner) Samy Ben Redjeb in 2006, Analog Africa has fueled the recent (re)discovery of funk, pop, rock and disco jewels from this often forgotten continent.
Some might think that this is not much different to what other similar labels -like Luaka Bop or Strut- have done, but it’s fair to say that Redjeb’s attention to detail often marks the difference with his label’s releases. They sure are not as ear-friendly as most William Onyeabor material -to give an example-, but the quirkyness of the song selection and the exquisite craftmanship of the physical editions certainly make these records special.
When I see compilations like these -and specially when we talk about old music from far away countries where plundering is rampant-, I often think of the original artists and wonder if they actually make a dime from the final sales, or if they are simply disregarded and ripped off much like jamaican reggae musicians -or many house-music greats- were back in the day. In this case however, it looks like things have been done the right way. Even if we don’t know the contract’s terms, in the making of this release the label has reached each and every right owner and musician for proper licensing, which actually makes a good story in itself!
Why you ask? Well, this wasn’t an easy task, it seems. In fact, Samy Ben Redjeb, after getting in contact with Lokonon André -one of the musicians featured in this very compilation-, set him on a mission to find the rest of the artists featured in the final list of songs. André was not only an excellent lead-singer for his band “Les Volcans”, he had also been trained by the KGB in the -then revolutionary- Peoples Republic of Benin, so he was perfect for the job. And they sure trained him well! In just a few weeks he had accomplished this most difficult mission – and we sincerely hope torture techniques weren’t necessary!-.
Much like the first volume from over 10 years ago, African Scream Vol. 2 is themed around this little country -Benin-, and the double LP is filled with 14 tracks featuring bands from cities like Cotonou or Porto Novo. The two vinyl records are packaged inside a beautiful double gate fold cover, that also features an amazingly colourful 24 page booklet.
The booklet is full of pictures, anecdotes and interviews with the original musicians.You can definitely tell this release is a labour of love.
This is all great for collectors and fetishists but… what about the music itself? One word: FUNK! With a fine selection of 60s, 70s, and early 80’s tracks the release draws together a beautiful mix of crossover styles, with groove and syncopation as common denominators.
The first track “A Min We Vo Nou We” from Porto Novo band “Les Sympathics”, starts out with a fuzzy distorted guitar that later gets softened -turning into a rythmic element- and shares the stage with the typical funk ensemble: electric bass, soulful drum breaks, cutting brass stabs, vocal screams and congas -giving it the tropical touch-. Taking an unorthodox turn at 3:30 or so, a crazy arabic bridge comes in where an organ takes the lead, later to be substituted by more brass. The song feels like a more exotic and “diy” version of 70s western funk, echoing bands like Mandrill, Ohio Players, early WAR and -of course- James Brown.
The second cut, “Asaw Fofor” from “Ignace de Souza & The Melody Aces” takes a much different direction, owing a big part of its sound to late 50s and 60s TV show themes. You can hear a little bit of the Peter Gunn theme influence, or even classics like -Adam West era- Batman and The Munsters. It definitely sounds a bit “older” and more rock oriented than the rest of the compilation -which is more 70s/funk centered- but it’s a great track nonetheless, good party starter.
The third song, “Dja Dja Dja” by Stanislas Tohon, which I wrongly expected to be an african Cha Cha Cha, has more of a Highlife / Afrobeat sound. Though definitely not as refined and jazzy as something from Fela Kuti, the cool brass hooks, whose melodies get echoed by the lyrics, make this cut one of my personal favourites in the release.
Next is “Elias Akadiri & Sunny Black ́s Band” with its track “L ́enfance”, a quite laid back song that takes a more reflective, less energetic path. It somehow sounds like something that Manu Chao could have sampled back in the late 90s. Also it’s one of the few cuts that I could partially understand -lyric wise- given the fact that it’s in french!
The fifth track, “Mé Adomina” is an african revision of surf with bits and pieces of funk -specially the bass lines-, vibrant screams and the ocassional congas. Like most of the compilation´s songs it mixes all of these elements with fresh tribal-like choir chants, giving it some extra complexity and a hint of disturbing exotism.
Let’s go to the sixth on the list! Antoine Dougbé’s “Nounignon Ma Klon Midji” is one of the funkiest tracks in this release. With a fairly straight -almost bordering on disco- high-hat rhythm, some wah-wah filtered guitar leads and ultra-groovy brass stabs, this one will definitely shake some booty! It’s like Hamilton Bohannon and Afrobeat had a bastard child.
But wait, the next cut’s even more funky!
“Moulon Devia”, one of the two “Orchestra Poly Rythmo” songs in this release, starts off with retro moogy synths and follows with a very fast four-on-the-floor beat that carries the whole song. The filtered white noise and slightly dissonant organ chords give it an ocassional “Onyeaborish” touch that’s simply great. If you put this after a Chic or LCD Soundsystem track in a DJ set I bet people will go crazy!
Following this is “Black Santiago” with the afrobeatish track “Paulina”. It’s a very hypnotic song that still sounds fresh today given its quite repetitive, almost loop-based structure. Its percussion centered vibe kinda reminds me of some Talking Heads stuff -Remain in Light comes to mind-, but it would be fair to say that it’s David Byrne who was influenced by music like this, and not the other way around!
Next is “Glenon Ho Akue”, by our beloved (and KGB-trained) Lokonon , with the aid from his “Volcans”. This track has more of a traditional african sound, similar to styles like soukous. The song’s time signature is fairly unusual -kind of a 6/8 or 3/4- making it sound fresh to most westerner’s ears -sadly accustomed to only 4/4 pop music hits-. The cowbells also give it a nice touch, Christopher Walken would be proud.
The 10th track is called “Sadé”, by Sebastien Pynasco and L ́Orchestre Black Santiago. Sharing its 6/8 signature with the previous song it also sounds a bit more folky than funky. If I mentioned how “L’enfance” could have been sampled by a 90’s Manu Chao, this one could easily make a lazy “El Guincho” sample based track -surely to get rave reviews from equally lazy Pitchfork critics-.
On to the next vinyl groove. “Baba L ́Oke Ba ́Wagbe” by “Super Borgou de Parakou” brings the funk back after an anxiously descending chord progression.
It has one the best James Brown “tiger scream” impersonations ever recorded, and its slightly out of tune guitars give it quite a haunting, melancholic, lo-fi touch.
The 12th track sounds more like Cuba than Africa to me -no surprise given the fact that Cuba is a country with a significant amount of population of sub-saharan origin-. The song is called “Gangnidodo”, by -wait for it- “Cornaire Salifou Michel et L ́Orchestre El Rego & ses Commandos”. It’s like a mix of italian b-movie 60s beat OSTs with Buena Vista Social Club. Hammond organs and wacky electronic harpsichord sounds, along with the strange chord progression in the bridge give this track an atmosphere that’s unlike anything you’ve heard before.
Next is “How Much Love Naturally Cost” by “Gnonnas Pedro and His Dadjes Band”. With a mix of lyrics in -limited- english and other languages -it even has bits of Spanish!- it’s likely the most recent track in the compilation. It’s a very synth-heavy song -do I hear an Arp Solina?-, with a drum sound that’s quite modern (compared to the other cuts in this release) plus a generous dose of chorus and reverb effects.
Last but not least, the 14th song is another track by “Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou” -what a discovery!-, called “Idavi”. This one is just as amazing as their previous one, with a fine mix of disco and afrobeat that simply kills. The tempo changes in the middle are to die for, and the complex melodies give it a psychedelic jazzy feel. If you listen to modern bands with a throwback afrobeat sound like Nu Guinea you will love this track, it’s the perfect ending to this one of a kind “funky safari trip”.
About the author: José -Pepe- Coca is a musician, producer and audio engineer from Zaragoza (Spain). He has a PhD in Art and teaches Sound Systems, Synthesis and Mastering courses at CPA Salduie and SEAS. He has also worked as a sound designer for companies such as Elektron, Befaco or HelloSamples.