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RAH & The Ruffcats: Orile To Berlin

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RAH & The Ruffcats: Orile To Berlin
Among the many Afrobeat bands which have emerged outside Nigeria since Fela Kuti passed in 1997, some of them first class, only a tiny few have succeeded in getting close to the sheer majesty of sound that Kuti conjured. The honor roll notably includes London's Soothsayers and Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra. Here comes another honoree. Take a bow, Berlin-based RAH & The Ruffcats, a nine-piece ensemble fronted by Lagos-born singer, rapper and composer RAH a.k.a. Rapturous Apollo Helios a.k.a. Ndubisi Onyedieke. Orile To Berlin is the real deal: authentic body-rocking Afrobeat with judiciously measured additions of funk and hip-hop. Check out the YouTube below.

RAH has been active on Berlin's Black music scene since the mid-2010s. The Ruffcats have been around since the late 2000s. Band and singer first got together in 2018, releasing the single "Shifting Sands," a with-strings agit-soul affair spotlighting the plight of refugees and evoking the work of Bobby Womack and Curtis Mayfield. With Orile To Berlin, a title which refers to RAH's journey from the Lagos neighborhood where he grew up, the outfit has hit an even richer vein of gold.

Most of the ingredients that made Kuti's founding Afrobeat so transcendent, and which continue to bring new listeners to his work in 2024, are present on Orile To Berlin. Hard-hitting socially-relevant lyrics, an immaculately arranged killer horn section, a Nord-emulated analog-age organ sound reminiscent of Kuti's sound on the instrument, a guitar which evokes Afrika 70's naggingly insistent signature tenor guitar, and rhythms that will not be denied. The differences are the infusions of funk and hip hop, at their most effective in the bass and drum patterns, and shorter track playing times (around four or five minutes) than Kuti preferred, which preclude extended solos; live, the chances are the soloists stretch out.

So attentive are RAH & The Ruffcats' to Kuti's founding paradigm, that it is tempting for an Afrobeat aficionado to get obsessive in their comparisons. Item: The Ruffcats' inclusion of a trombone in their three-piece horn section. Kuti only used a trombonist once, for a few months, because he was unable to find a suitably proficient player who was up for the gig. Which was unfortunate, because the instrument adds bottom-end punch and sits well with the baritone saxophone prominent in both Kuti's bands and The Ruffcats. Item: The guest appearance of singer Melane on the closing track, "Inside Out." Kuti only twice recorded with a female lead singer, most memorably with Sandra Izsadore on 1976's Upside Down (Decca Afrodisia). "Inside Out" is a love song, "Upside Down" is political, but can the similarity between the titles really be coincidental? And while we are trainspotting, is The Ruffcats' guitarist, Botond Ikvai Szabo, any relation to the late great Gabor Szabo?

This review has to close with a tip of the hat to Jochen Ströh, Orile To Berlin's producer. No stranger to West African music, Ströh worked with Ebo Taylor on his albums Love And Death (Strut, 2010) and Appia Kwa Bridge (Comet, 2012). He has excelled himself again here.

Postscript: Orile To Berlin follows hard on the heels of another stonking summer of 2024 album on the Sonar Kollectiv label run by the DJ and producer team Jazzanova. The other is Macunaismo Tardio Vol. 1 & 2 by the Brazilian tenor saxophonist Vinicius Mendes, a local hero on Belo Horizonte's jazz-samba scene who has enough talent to take him global.

Track Listing

Yeah Yeah Yeah; Agidi; MoonSun; Ide Osun (Mantra); Rodeo; Wake Up (They Are The People Of The Myths); Sorry; Kaya; Inside Out.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Orile To Berlin | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Sonar Kollectiv


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