Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain in 1960, resulting in a series of national schisms that gave way to political unrest and military rule that continued officially until 1999 with the restoration of a supposedly democratic government. Many contend, however, that Olusegun Obasanjo’s two victories were stolen, and nearly the entire world condemned the 2007 election of Umaru Yar’Adua as being flawed. Nevertheless, a 2001 poll found Nigerians to be the happiest people in a group of sixty-five countries that includes North American and Western European stalwarts. (For the record, we Yanks came in at sixteenth, a hair behind New Zealand but eight places above the Brits.)
That paradoxical mixture of joy and terror is apparent in Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump, a Strut compilation of Afrobeat, Highlife, and Afro-Funk recorded in the years following Nigeria’s independence. Freedom in Nigeria brought with it James Brown, whose presence is felt heavily on Nigeria 70, from the bass gulps and funky drumming of Bola Johnson & His Easy Life Top Beats’ “Ezuku Buzo” to Eric (Showboy) Akaeze’s soul-cries in “Wetin de Watch Goat, Goat Dey Watch.” The latter track, sung in English, directly confronts Nigeria’s violent transition; over a thick New Orleans beat and tinny guitars, Akaeze warns his listeners, “If you leave you house, you guan be dead.”
But the Godfather wasn’t the only Western light to shine across Nigeria’s scratchy transistor radios. The funky organ intro to Sir Shina Peters and His International Stars’ “Yabis” recalls ? and the Mysterians covering “I Shot the Sheriff,” and “Hot Tears” by the Immortals comes across like the Velvet Underground injected with a shot of samba (seriously). The best track, though, is the Faces’ “Tug of War.” The titular tug may well be between the feedback squall of guitar and a pair of saxophones that give new glory to the term “squawking,” though the actual tug is likely far more sinister. Rolling afrobeat dominates the comp, though, resting its bouncy head on pillows of reverb, squeaky guitars tucking it in, and a thick bass lulling away.
Listening to and thinking about the music on this disc is an odd time trip. It’s tempting to think of Check Your Head era Beasties at the quirky inception of Chief Checker’s “Africa Irie” until you realize that Checker’s track was put down back when people dropped colonial rule instead of records. All told, this is a summer record with consequences; consider it a picture of the world’s happiest people being held at gunpoint. words / m garner