The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock

Peter Holslin takes a look at the new afro-funk re-issue on Now-Again.
By    February 8, 2016


Peter Holslin only listens to Zamrock.

For several years now, labels like Strut and Analog Africa have serve upd compilation after compilation of anything from Nigerian Afrobeat to South African disco. Walk into a record store, go to the “International” section, and you’ll have plenty of quasi-ethnographic comps and collector-baiting reissues-of-reissues to choose from. It’s all great stuff, to be sure, and there is a definite value to an archival collection of music such as these. They invite further understanding and study, and also bring new audiences and revenues to the African artists themselves. But as the format itself has hardened into something predictable and formulaic, you have to wonder if some of these collections have basically become the African-music version of the Summer of Love biopic or ’80s club night—heavy on nostalgia and myth-making and light on complexity.

So, yeah, I’m skeptical. But I’m OK with taking a look at just one more. In April and May, Now-Again Records will release Wake Up You!, a two-volume set of Nigerian rock from the 1970s. The two comps, produced by Now-Again’s Eothen Alapatt and writer/DJ Uchenna Ikonna, will be presented in big books featuring photos and liner notes written by Ikonna–all of it taking a look at a fuzzed-out, funky rock scene that emerged in the wake of a civil war that almost tore the formidable nation of Nigeria apart. Among the artists highlighted are bands like The Hykkers, who, according to Ikonna, started in 1960s Lagos as one of the country’s first pop groups, only to re-emerge after the war sounding rawer and harder, as though their “innocence was gone.”

It’s a powerful subject, and one that might have some current resonance considering that Nigeria today is going through a conflict with the militant group Boko Haram.  This period in Nigeria’s musical history has been well covered over the years, and some of the tracks have been previously released on other comps as well. I’ll reserve further judgment on Wake Up You! for now, though, because I’ve yet to dig into the whole package. I leave you with a track off the series’ first volume: “Everybody Likes Something Good” by Ify Jerry Krusade. In it, smoky organs and guitars play against a meaty rhythm and sing-along vocal chants, evoking something very good indeed.

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