[23 January 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Trinidadian outfit Black Truth Rhythm Band, despite releasing the Afro-centric Ifetayo in 1976, when Afro-beat was in full swing, was an oddity of its time. The group, fronted by the excellent Oluko Imo—who would go on to play in Fela Kuti’s Africa 80 band—did not turn their focus to James Brown and other American funk and R&B artists the way so many other acts did. Instead, the players found their influences in Africa itself, even going so far as to give themselves African names and donning African dress.
As a result, the band’s only document, Ifetayo, now reissued by Soundway, is a unique and fascinating record. These songs have the deep rhythms of afro-beat—check the moody thump of “You People” or the swampy shake of “Kilimanjaro”—but there’s little of the genre’s funk-influenced hard edge on these songs. Instead they warm and soften and stretch out, yet they never fall slack. Driven by Imo’s undeniably charm and musicianship—he plays a wide arsenal of instruments on the record—Ifetayo builds to the epic closer, “Umbala”, a brilliant eight-minute thumper that pulls all the album’s affecting space to its widest, and most fruitful, point. As the band’s only recorded album, Ifetayo is a rarity, and made even rarer by the band’s distinctive approach and influences. But what makes it a rarity worth seeking out is the remarkable and consistent quality of these songs. Even without James Brown as an influence, Imo and his crew found plenty of their own funk on Ifetayo, and it’s a groove worth getting lost in.