The Lijadu Sisters have a story worthy of film treatment. Twins Taiwo and Kehinde were born in Nigeria in 1948, and by the 1970s were making a splash in the same vibrant Nigerian music scene that spawned Sunny Ade, Victor Uwaifo, and Fela Kuti. Coming to the attention of both local and international music figures (such as Cream drummer Ginger Baker), The Lijadu Sisters recorded four albums in the 1970s for Decca Records’ Afrodisia imprint. The sisters toured the United States in the 1980s, to glowing reviews, before tragedy occurred: A nasty fall left Kehinde with spinal injuries that she has been struggling with ever since. The Sisters stopped recording and touring, and their records fell out of print. It seemed the career of The Lijadu Sisters was over.
Until now. Knitting Factory Records has embarked on a reissue program that will see all four original recordings released in the coming months. The first of these reissues, Danger, is out now. The only thing to say about this record is: “Hallelujah!” And, possibly, “thank goodness someone at Knitting Factory had the good sense to dig these records up”.
Danger has a short tracklist (just six songs totaling 33 minutes), but many of the tunes stretch for a decent time, so the grooves have plenty of opportunity to air out. The songs all feature the twins’ brilliant vocals, which intertwine and play off each other, as well as meaty production courtesty of multu-instrumentalist Biddy Wright, who infuses these tunes with the funky bass and organ chops of classic-era soul and funk; there’s plenty of wah-wah guitar and other exotic sounds as well. Listeners looking for the “African music” of talking drum, djembe, and kora should look elsewhere. That said, this is glorious music, laced with layers of groovy vibes and layered over with the sisters’ sweet harmonies. It’s a terrific ride from start to finish.
Lead track “Danger” sets the tone with its snaky rhythms and extensive use of keyboards and scratchy guitar, with the vocal harmonies floating above it all. “Amebo” slows the tempo a bit, while “Life’s Gone Down Low” — recently included on Soundway Records’ complilation album The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychadelia in 1970s Nigeria — offers up a hypnotic song-chant that stretches for five minutes. The vocals are sung entirely in English, a rarity for this type of music, which perhaps explains some of the band’s success in the U.S.
“Cashing In” offers a sardonic view of official corruption, to the upbeat vibe of a happy pop song. It’s the weakest tune here, but seven-minute closer “Lord Have Mercy” finishes the record strongly. The track slows the tempo again, ending the album on a somber note, with a keening synth line in the background adding a mournful, sirenlike tone to this tale of street poverty and despair.
Traditional this most assuredly is not, but fans of the recent spate of Afro-funk and Afro-rock compilations and reissues should certainly take the time to listen to The Lijadu Sisters. Their seamless blend of funky rhythms, rock instrumentation, and smooth-as-silk vocals put them ahead of many of their peers, while top-notch production ensures that their records sound excellent even by today’s standards. And the best news of all: Three more records are on the way.