Music

The Funkees: Dancing Time: The Best of Eastern Nigeria's Afro Rock Experiments

The Funkees were featured in the Nigeria Special series, but on this reissue we get to dig deeper into their catalog, and in it we find a fiery band with some serious chops.


The Funkees

Dancing Time: The Best of Eastern Nigeria's Afro Rock Experiments 1973-1977

US Release: 2012-04-10
Label: Soundway
UK Release: 2012-04-23
Label Website
Amazon
iTunes

With digital content at our fingertips, reissued albums seem almost unnecessary, or a way to hopefully cash in as much as a label can on content that people can find online for free and, often in the case of out-of-print material, without anyone taking much notice. However, the point of the reissue has, in light of digital democracy, changed. It's not just about giving us old content again, it's about setting it in context, and at its best it's about separating out what deserves to be celebrated again. If blogs deal often deal in obscurity for obscurity's sake, the best reissues seek to make the obscure popular, more appreciated. It's one of a few ways we have left to gatekeep the glut of music all too easily available to us.

Soundway Records has proven to be one of the great gatekeepers of the past 10 years or so. Though they explore other cultures and music, they have been a particularly strong shining light in African music and, more specifically, in music from Nigeria. Their Nigeria Special series has been downright revelatory, digging into a time and place -- Nigeria in the late-'60s and '70s -- that popular thought associates with one sound (afro-beat) and one performer (Fela Kuti) to expand and complicate our understanding of it, and to highlight other amazing contemporaries of Kuti. Since the Nigeria Special series, Soundway has taken their focus one step further, crafting reissues of works by single artists. Works like their Monomono/Joni Haastrup reissues or their re-release of the Black Goddess soundtrack have helped us dig deeper into corners of Nigerian music not often explored, and has made the understanding of the region's music and culture richer.

Now Soundway returns with another of these focused collections, Dancing Time: The Best of Eastern Nigeria's Afro Rock Experiments 1973-1977, which shines a light on Afro-rock Nigerian band the Funkees. The Funkees were featured as part of the Nigeria Special series, but here we get to dig deeper into their catalog. In it we find a fiery band with some serious chops. If Fela Kuti's music got big and confrontational, spreading out on giant horn sections, the Funkees are a surgically lean counterpoint, a band every bit as energetic but much more contained in their attack. The results are unique and arresting, showing a tighter rock approach to the wide-open sound of Afro-beat and Afro-funk.

The band has the driving percussion and bracing group vocals you might expect, but their sound is truly theirs. A song like "Akpankoro" drives forward on a sweaty thump, but it’s the jagged riffs -- a brittle guitar braced by a skronky organ -- that make the song so immediate and eccentric and beautiful. Elsewhere "Point of No Return" coasts on a deep bass, but organ and heavily wah-pedaled guitar weave tangled circles around it. The excellent "Dancing Time" offers no pretense to be more than it claims -- a dancing song -- but though it brings in horns, it's the strange organ vamping in the middle of the song that will catch your ear.

The Funkees were, well, pretty damn funky, and Dancing Time proves this again and again, from the charged shuffle of "Acid Rock" to the soul rundown of "Baby I Need You". What makes them distinct, though, are those strange details that break up the smooth groove of these songs -- the seemingly improvised organ fill, the unruly guitar solo, anything to break up the flow of the song. It's not to stop you dancing, necessarily, but more to confront you in a subtle way, to bring you back to the intention of the song, the freedom it's representing, the freedom it's striving for. The band can stretch out and explore, as they do on longer tracks like "Akula Owa Onyeara", but they are at their most innovative and singular when they work within tighter constraints. They can do in three minutes what many of their contemporaries needed 10 to do.

It's great to see the variety of sound the Funkees achieved, but how they evolved over time remains a bit murky on Dancing Time. The collection comprises highlights from various 7-inches released in Nigeria and two full-length records -- 1974's Point of No Return and 1976's Now I'm A Man -- released in the UK. It was in the UK that the Funkees achieved their greatest success, crafting great records and selling out shows, but the collection here isn't chronological, so it's hard to see the road they took to get there. What you get in the trade off is a well sequenced collection, and songs that certainly stand on their own, but the timeline of the band, how exactly they grew, doesn't quite come across. It's a small complaint, though, for such a strong set, and in the end the Funkees sound like another great mid-'70s Nigerian band we should pay more attention to, and once again Soundway Records has shown it should be the one standing at that gate, letting out only the things we need to hear. Because, in the end, those things -- including Dancing Time -- also end up being the things we want to hear.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image