March 14, 2011

Hip-hop hiatus today. It’s all Afro-beat everything right now at Passion of the Weiss headquarters, where I’m celebrating the Ides of March a day early by listening to Pax Nicholas’ 1973 classic, Na Teef’s Know Road of Teef. After all, the themes are vaguely similar. Consider Na Teef, Nicholas’ act of rebellion against the Caesarean tyranny of Fela Kuti. After all, the black president was more dictator within the walls of Kalakuta Republic, frequently whipping, berating, and slapping anyone who dared question his authority. Needless to say, this side didn’t make the Will Smith Broadway version.

Discovering the young soul prodigy and adding him to Afrika ’70 starting with 72’s Lady/Shakara, you can hear Nicholas’ backing vocals and congas on most of the classic 70s Fela records. But solo ambitions were anathema to Kuti and thus, Nicholas recorded all of Na Teef in Ginger Baker’s Lagos studio, secretly collaborating with The Martin Brothers Band, six of Fela’s backup singers and a trio of other bandmates from Afrika ’70. The first member of the band to record a solo album, Nicholas claims that Na Teef takes its title from an African proverb meaning, “someone who knows how to steal and can recognize another person who is also a thief. It’s about how people with special skills recognize each other.” Essentially, Yoruban for game recognize game.

Fela discovered Na Teef’s existence when one of the DJ’s in Kalakuta played Nicholas’ record, which subsequently caused him to throw a tantrum and order them to never play it again. The jealousy was partially deserved. Nicholas’ vision of afro-beat is as clarion and dirt nasty as Fela’s: full of hypnotic organs, supernal horn sections, and heavy funk. Of course, it’s partially a matter of the pupil emulating the master, but this lives up to its rep as a long-lost classic. Re-issued by Daptone last year, it’s an essential album for all Afro-Beat acolytes.  Nicholas is still surviving, currently living in Berlin and fronting Ridimtaksi. Someone needs to book him a show in Los Angeles. I’m looking at you, Hollywood Bowl.

MP3: Pax Nicholas – “Atta Onukpa”

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