The '70s were a tumultuous time in Nigerian music. The Afro-Carib-jazz sounds of highlife had swept West Africa, and funk was hitting hard. At any time in Lagos you could find a huge variety of cross-cultural fusions, melding Old and New World, tradition and invention. Out of this creative storm came many influential groups, some of which derived their influences more directly than others. When Ginger Baker (drummer of Cream fame) made the journey from the UK across the desert to Nigeria in a Range Rover in the late '60s, he brought a BBC camera crew and an abiding interest in absorbing African styles. Fast forward to 1971: Baker formed a band called Salt, featuring five Nigerian musicians, which toured the US and Europe. When Salt imploded, a power trio named Blo emerged from its ashes. Phases
documents the rise and fall of this group through a decade of changes, drawing from five records issued over the period.
In 1972, Blo created its own sound, which evolved dramatically over the next ten years. The instrumentation was straight out of rock: guitar, bass, and drums. The approach was pure pophowever you might define it during those crazy timesbut it involved extended, creative improvisation. The music drifted among the sounds of '70s Lagos, pulling together bits and pieces from here and there. The first three tracks on Phases come from Blo's debut, an unadulterated trip through sound and space. The guitar on "Miss Sagit" glides through minor melodies with a decidedly sitar-like sound; "Chant to Mother Earth" features slow, echoing vocals. A couple years later, Blo turned to the deep funk that would remain their hallmark. "It's Gonna Be A Good Day" blends strutting guitar with syncopated bass and drums, carrying an upbeat vocal message and an irrestible call to dance. Only rarely did the group turn back to its Yoruba roots, as on "Atide," featured here. As time progressed, they began to dip into the frenzy of disco, retaining the energy without the faux plastic trim. "Scandi Boogie" (from 1976) stands as the high point of Phases :
It don't need no explanations
You can feel the vibrations...
Are you cool enough to do it?
Gonna do it! Scandi boogie!
How can you say no to that invitation?
Hats off to AfroStrut for bringing together this kaleidoscopic retrospective of a Nigerian band that managed to cross boundaries without ever losing its organic appeal. These guys had fun, no doubt about it.
Visit AfroStrut on the net. Phases is available from amazon.co.uk and other retailers.
For more African music reviews, visit our special review page .
Track Listing: Preacher Man; Miss Sagit; Chant to Mother Earth; Blo; It's Gonna Be A
Good Day; Don't Take Her Away From Me; Atide; Scandi Boogie; Trace Of
Suicide; Number One; Get That Groove In; Loving Caring; Dance In A
Personnel: Blo: Berkely "Ike" Jones: guitars, vocals; Laolu "Akins" Akintobi: drums,
vocals; Mike "Gbenga" Odumosu.