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Various Artists: Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-6

Various Artists: Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-6

Label:Smithsonian Soundways
Release Date:2008

By Sam Hopkins | Posted 2/20/2008

Mostly made right after the end of the Biafran War that wracked West Africa at the end of the 1960s, Nigeria Special captures the sound of a national sigh of relief. Though the post-war period of Nigerian music is, like reggae of the time, identified mainly with major names--in this case, Fela Kuti, Ebenezer Obey, and King Sunny Ade--there was a tapestry of artists and production houses that existed beyond them. Nigeria Special is two discs' worth of band names such as tha Funkees and the Nigerian Police Force Band, aka "The Force 7," mixing clear American R&B influence with a modern native sound.

These aren't field recordings, but they're as reflective of time and culture as anything the Smithsonian could put out. The optimistic twang of Fender guitars mixes with rolling snares and hand drums on "Blak Sound," by Leo Fadaka and the Heroes, while the Semi-Colon invites listeners to "look at them, singing dancing everywhere they go." These were not one-off pressings, as the liner notes of photographed record sleeves marked by EMI, Polydor, Philips, and others show.

By the time CDs surfaced, though, these international giants saw no market in a Nigeria that was, again, as strife-ridden as it was oil-rich. Old vinyl copies were played with sharpened nails instead of styluses, and the musicians we hear have likewise been scraping by at home, at best, unless they emigrated. Their music, heard today, is a bright, hopeful parallel to a troubled history.

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