Osibisa – 1971 – Osibisa
Review by willowpig
Osibisa’s self-titled album opened up their unique blend of African and Western styled music to a wider audience, charting in both the U.S. and Europe. Produced by Tony Visconti, Osibisa’s extraordinary merger of African drum beats, colorful rhythms, and rock-inspired keyboard and horn parts give it an expansive sound that infuses countless musical influences. Even the melodies take bits of rhythm & blues and modern rock and affix them to the accompanying percussion beats to come up with a contemporary feel with an avant-garde atmosphere. Tracks such as “Dawn“, “Phallus C,” and “Oranges” incorporate fragments of traditional jazz and jazz fusion mainly because of the flute and saxophone into their core, but then fashions the result to resemble the band’s true heritage.
Each song conjures up a certain African mysticism with its stressed rhythms and semi-primordial tempos. The most impressive track, “Music for Gong Gong“, became a minor hit in the U.K. thanks to the well- balanced vocal charge and the beauty that’s felt in the shingled layers of guitar, organ, and drum work. In both “Ayiko Bia” and “Akwaaba“, Osibisa’s Ghanian and Nigerian roots come alive through the use of the flute, flugelhorn, and trumpet – not exactly the traditional instruments of West Africa, but they are transformed and molded to take on the band’s fundamental sound. What may be the most predominant aspect about Osibisa is that the vast blend of instruments and the playful lyrics inject just enough of a modern element into the album that it’s properly kept from being labeled as world music or as new age.
A1 The Dawn 7:24
A2 Music for Gong Gong 4:19
A3 Ayiko Bia 7:52
B1 Akwaaba 5:27
B2 Oranges 4:43
B3 Phallus C 7:15
B4 Think About the People 4:36
“…Early one morning in the heart of Africa ….” This is part of the spoken word introduction to the album and sets the scene. Osibisa are the world-beating Afrorock band and their combusting, first and best album follows. As Santana were to Latin rock, so this band fused different styles to create a new musical idiom. When this album dropped in 1970 it created shockwaves that are still being felt today . If you are in any doubt just take a listen. This band are originators, their music timeless .
The African and West Indian musicians came together in the hothouse environment of London , got in the best production team of Tony Visconti and Martin Rushent, and proceeded to change the musical landscape with this groundbreaking release. It fused African Highlife styles with the emerging funk and rock of late 1960’s America . Combine the Hendrix-inspired guitar of Wendell Richardson, from Antigua, to the trumpets and horns of Mac Tontoh and Teddy Osei fron Ghana. Dont forget the organ of Robert Bailey from Trinidad and a few more inspired players and all of them giving the congas , timbales and drums a storming polyrhythmic workout . The beat is primal, sometimes trance-like and always joyously melodic.
Perhaps Fela Kuti and Manu Dibango were the only other artists doing this sort of stuff on the world stage at the time. But the ensemble performances we get here are unique; the different instruments all play a pivotal part in the developing sound. There is a jamming element but only in service to the often intricate songs . And the songs take you on a journey from the building percussive intensity of ‘The Dawn‘ to the socially conscious lyrics of ‘Think about the People‘. Throw in a brilliant cover graphic for the album and a landmark release is realized.
Talking Heads took the music to its next point, ( post-modern ? ) ten years later with ‘Remain in Light’, another compulsively danceable African inspired music revolution . Many have synthesised cultural styles in interesting ways in the years since Osibisa’s hey day, but the Big Bang can be found here .
The Osibisa albums released later found the band sounding steadily more commercial and bland, though the next, “Woyaya“, is fantastic too . And the first one is a seminal work that still dazzles with it’s creative intensity .