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Etuk Ubong: Africa Today

Chris May By

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Etuk Ubong: Africa Today
Lagos-based Etuk Ubong is part of a long line of fiery, Afrobeat-rooted, hard bop-influenced trumpeters which stretches back to Tunde Williams, who was in the 1960s a founder member of Fela Kuti's seminal band, Africa 70. Kuti's legacy figures large in Ubong's music, which he styles "earth music" and which is characterised by urgent tempos, powerful horn charts and highly charged socio-political lyrics.

Ubong made his own-name debut in 2017, when he released Tales Of Life (Jazzagression). Before then, he was best known as a member of The Positive Force, the superb Afrobeat ensemble led by Kuti's eldest son, Femi. His international star rose rapidly in 2019. That year he performed at the EFG London Jazz Festival and at the crucible of London's alternative jazz scene, Steam Down (whose organiser, Ahnanse, is interviewed here). As a direct result of those gigs, Ubong was booked to represent Nigeria at the now-postponed Jazzahead trade fair in Bremen, Germany in April 2020.

Fela Kuti first recorded as a straight-ahead jazz trumpeter, with his pre-Africa 70 band Koola Lobitos, before pivoting in a more Africentric direction. Ubong is doing the same, at least with his second album. Tales Of Life was recorded as a hard bop-based quartet album. Africa Today is made with an eleven-piece band and is one hundred per cent earth music: instrumental soloing is dialled down, vocals are dialled up, and there is a hefty rhythmic infusion of a ritual music known as ekombi, which originated among the Efik people in Nigeria's Cross River State (where, incidentally, Ubong was born, in the same village as London-based alto saxophonist Camilla George, who is interviewed here).

Earth music's upside is similar to that of Afrobeat. Urgent and energetic and danceable, its instrumental vibe mirrors the strong pan-Africanist sentiments of its lyrics. Ubong calls out Africa's largely sorry crop of post-colonial politicians, labelling them corrupt and incompetent, much as Fela Kuti did and his sons Femi (with The Positive Force) and Seun (with Egypt 80) do. Earth music's downside is we get to hear less of Ubong's hard-driving, post-Freddie Hubbard trumpet. As Fela and his sons have demonstrated, Afrobeat is enriched by jazz improvisation. Earth music would be, too.

Track Listing

Ekpommommom; African Struggle; Africa Today; Mass Corruption; Spiritual Change; The Purpose of Creation.

Personnel

Etuk Ubong: trumpet; Robin van Rhijn: drums; Jack Stephens Oliver: keyboards; Benson Itoe: bass, electric; Mamour Seek: percussion; Dra Diarra: percussion; Michael Awosogo: trumpet; Alba Pujals: trombone; Giovanni Cigui: saxophone, alto; Nicoló Ricci: saxophone, tenor; Bahgi Yemani: voice / vocals.

Album information

Title: Africa Today | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Night Dreamer

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