Various Artists: Lagos Disco Inferno

Various Artists
Lagos Disco Inferno
Academy Records

Frank Gossner is a Europe-based DJ who specializes in trolling through West African countries and record collections in search of rare African soul and funk from the 1960s and ’70s. After cleaning up the records, he creates MP3 playlists of his findings and posts them for free download on his blog, Voodoofunk. Now, after twenty-odd MP3 offerings, Gossner has teamed up with Academy Records to release a collection of ’70s dance tracks from Nigeria, a hotbed of African funk. Restored to pristine condition, free of the crackle and buzz that accompanies most of the Voodoofunk offerings, this collection is a gift which will challenge preconceptions of both “disco” and “African music”.

The first three songs lay out the template, as might be expected from a trio entitled “Boogie Trip”, “African Hustle”, and “Bad City Girl”. The three are uniformly uptempo, with Doris Ebong’s “Boogie Trip” featuring girlish, wailing vocals over a pumping bassline. A funky conga ‘n’ bass breakdown prevents things from getting repetitive. “African Hustle” is an instrumental funk jam courtesy of Geraldo Pino, while “Bad City Girl” brings more propulsive bass, sweetly harmonized lyrics (if you can read the title, you’ve got 60% of the words), and jazzy flute break. Clocking in at over five minutes each, these songs form a sort of dance manifesto, and they are extraordinarily difficult to resist. They don’t begin so much as resume, as if they’ve always been playing somewhere, and they don’t end so much as fade into the ether. One gets the impression that they just drift off into space where they will one day land on some alien planet, funkier than ours, where snake-waisted aliens boogie all night long.

The tempo never flags. Make no mistake, this is dance music, and the drums throb (albeit polyrhythmically), the basslines bounce and the listener is continually exhorted to get down, to boogie hard, and so forth. Given this lyrical simplicity, what saves the record from repetitiveness is the unflagging energy these groups bring to their material, not to mention impressive musical chops. Plus, there’s not a cheesy synthesizer line or drum machine to be heard.

Asiko Rock Group’s “Everybody Get Down” features soulful sax and a gurlging, bubbly keyboard tone that is flatly irresistible. The chanted lyrics, exhorting the listener to ever greater heights of funkiness, boogieness, and getting-on-downness, are almost irrelevant, except insofar as they encapsulate a relentless attitude of verve, life, enjoyment and–dare I say it?–love. Its eight-plus minutes flash by too fast.

The second half of the album maintains the high standard of the first. Each song preserves the butt-shaking energy and good nature of the previous tracks, while adding something unique to the mix, whether it’s the twinkling keyboard of Emma Dorgu’s “Rover Man,” the sultry middling tempo of “Take Life Easy” by Christy Essien, or the distorted guitar and sweetly goofy lyrics of MFB’s “Boredom Pain”. (Sample lyric: “You can shake your bones / Or you can shake your flesh”.) Anyone who equates “disco” with “mind-numbing dullness”–come on, raise your hands–will find this collection a revelation.

The final act, Nana Love’s “Hang On”, deserves a mention on account of its sheer mass: at nearly 15 minutes, this is as monumental an African dance song as anyone is likely to find on tape. The unpolished vocals prove surprisingly affecting, floating over an ocean of bass and drums, punctuated by staccato horns and ragged swirls of farfisa. The singer, presumably Nana Love herself, expresses her devotion–or maybe it’s her desperation–through a series of yelps and squeals that have more in common with Fun House-era Stooges than anything from KC and the Sunshine Band. Like so much else on this album, the raw vocals an tumultuous finale are the antithesis of “disco” as it was experienced in this country. It is one final surprise from a record that is full of them.

RATING 9 / 10
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