sat 04/04/2020

Reissue CDs Weekly: Wake Up You! | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Wake Up You!

Reissue CDs Weekly: Wake Up You!

Peculiarly packaged two-volume collection of essential Seventies Nigerian soul-rock

Nigeria's Sly & the Family Stone fans The Hykkers

It begins with “Never Never Let Me Down” by Formulars Dance Band. “You’re the only good thing I’ve got,” declares the singer of a garage-band answer to The Impressions over a rough-and-ready backing where a shuffling mid-tempo groove is driven along by wheezy organ and scratchy lead guitar. When the band unites to sing harmonies, the massed vocal is distorted: a sure sign of an overloaded microphone.

It begins with “Never Never Let Me Down” by Formulars Dance Band. “You’re the only good thing I’ve got,” declares the singer of a garage-band answer to The Impressions over a rough-and-ready backing where a shuffling mid-tempo groove is driven along by wheezy organ and scratchy lead guitar. When the band unites to sing harmonies, the massed vocal is distorted: a sure sign of an overloaded microphone. If this were America, “Never Never Let Me Down” would have been an obscure independent soul release issued around 1966. But this was Nigeria and Formulars Dance Band – whose personnel are unknown – recorded their song at Decca Studios in Lagos in 1973.

“Never Never Let Me Down” is followed by The Hydgrades’ “Keep on Moving”, an enviable marriage of James Brown’s funk and the “In the Midnight Hour” riff. A similarly rudimentary recording, it was also recorded in Lagos at a professional studio and issued in 1972 by an arm of Polydor, the German label.

While most of the 34 tracks spread across the two volumes of Wake Up You! The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock draw from soul, it’s fascinating that both Formulars Dance Band and The Hydgrades had ties with European labels operating in early Seventies’ Nigeria. If there was money to be made in the former British colony, in they came. And it seemed as though Nigeria was worth exploiting.

While the desire to make a buck shouldn’t be a surprise, the swiftness of the entry of foreign labels into the market following the end of the Nigerian Civil War in January 1970 is. Nigeria was still unstable and there were no guarantees any investment would bring a return. This shaky period, from 1972 to 1977, is the focus of Wake Up You!, which is subtitled “Rock in the Wake of War”. The high-life sound had faded after war began in 1967. Soul and rock helped fill the gap when peace was restored.

Wake Up You! Volume One The Rise & Fall Of Nigerian Rock Music 1972-1977Formulars Dance Band and The Hydgrades demonstrate the consistency of these two compilations and the nature of the well being drawn from. Elements of rock (Hendrix and Cream mainly) crop up as, to a lesser degree, do local flavours. But soul dominates. “Stone the Flower” by Hykkers and “Beautiful Daddy” by The Funkees both lift Sly & the Family Stone refrains. Indeed, “Stone the Flower” must be named after Sly Stone's Stone Flower label. Along with Ofo the Black Company, The Funkees are one of the two familiar names. Never having heard of, say, Action 13 is not a problem as everything is accessible and instantly likeable. One listen to the fuzz guitar-dominated “Graceful Bird” by War-Head Constriction, influenced by Hendrix and possibly Funkadelic, is enough to make the musical case for Wake Up You!

But this is about more than the music. Each volume is packaged as a well-illustrated hardback book: Volume One has 106 pages; Volume Two 98. The accompanying CD seems like an afterthought as it comes in a cheapo floppy card sleeve which is loose: it is not fixed into the book and could easily become separated from it.

Another more bizarre aspect of the packaging becomes clear when reading the books: the first 33 pages in each are exactly the same. So is what appears from page 76 onwards in Volume One and from page 69 in Volume Two. Text and pictures unique to each volume appear between each of the repeated sets of pages. This is poor. Why sell parts of the same thing twice? (Each package sells for between £15 and £16) Wake Up You! should have been one release, with two CDs.

This mars what is otherwise a diligent, well-annotated project which includes uniformly great music and insightful long-form liner notes going into Nigeria’s political situation, the country’s music business infrastructure, the issues the bands faced, their individual biographies, the role of Afrobeat and how it marginalised the soul and rock scenes. Due to the packaging, it is hard to recommend Wake Up You! unreservedly. Nonetheless, the music needs to be heard and – the deficient treatment of each CD aside – the unique aspects of each package are impressive. Pity that these are such a hash overall.

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