History, they say, is written by the victors. Without a doubt, it's written by the governing majority, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the near invisibility, until very recently, of black and African people in chronicles of British life and culture.
Honest Jons provides a vibrant antidote to this Eurocentric bias with the London Is The Place For Me compilation series (not to mention, of course, restoring some important early black British music to the racks). Volume 1 looked at Trinidadian calypso recorded in London in the 1950s; Volume 2 broadened the field to include music made by African artists. This latest volume stays with London-made African music of the 1950s but, unlike its predecessors, focuses on just one musician: Ambrose Adekoya Campbell, the trailblazing grandaddy of all African musicians who've since arrived in the city.
Born in 1919 in Nigeria, Campbell came to Britain as a merchant seaman during the early 1940s. He remained in London, leading his West African Rhythm Brothers, until 1972, when he accepted an offer to join Leon Russell's blue-eyed soul revue in the US. He returned to Britain two years ago, and now lives in happy semi-retirement in the southern seaport of Plymouth.
Campbell is a grade one British national treasure, if such possession can be claimed of someone who has lived less than half his life in the country. A legend of epic proportions among African musicians in London and Lagos even today, Campbell first introduced native Britain to West African highlife (and some night-time sunshine) in the grim ration-book years immediately following the Second World War. With the West African Rhythm Brothers he was resident at two pivotal Soho clubs during the area's Bohemian heyday: the Abalabi (in Berwick Street) in the 1950s, and Club Afrique (in Wardour Street) in the 1960s. His music barely changed through the years, and was an affable, sunny recreation of Nigerian palm-wine highlife, with some Caribbean and jazz admixtures, sung in a honeyed tenor voice over authentic roots percussion and easy swinging clarinets, trumpets and guitars.
Campbell was befriended and appreciated by an astonishing range of people, from playwright George Bernard Shaw to Jamaican ska star Prince Buster (that's Buster playing one of Campbell's squeeze drums on the CD's front cover). Novelist Colin MacInnes was a close friend, and he immortalised Campbell as bandleader Cranium Cuthbertson in his history-as-fiction Soho novel City Of Spades. Yet so powerful is Britain's Eurocentric bias that you will find no trace of Campbell (nor the Alabi nor Club Afrique) in other books about Soho during this, its golden period. London Is The Place For Me 3 goes some way to correcting the omissions.
We Have It In Africa; Oba Adele; The Wind In A Frolic; Iku Koni Payin; Ibkunle Alakija; Omo Laso; Calabar-O; Emi Wa Wa Lowo Re; Iwa D'Areke; Omnira; The Memorial Of Chief J.K.Randle; Mofi Ajobi Seyin; Unity; Oratido Soso; Ayami; Oba Ademola 11; Late Ojo Davies; Geneva Conference; Ele Da Awa; Aye Wa Adara; Lagos Mambo; Odudua; I Am A Stranger.
Ambrose Adekoya Campbell (1,2,4-10,12,15-23): vocals, guitar and percussion with West African Rhythm Brothers, Ayinde Bakara & His Meranda Orchestra, West African Rhythm Stars. Brewster Hughes (3,11,13,14): vocals and guitar with Nigerian Union Rhythm Group.
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.