Strut Records’ Nigeria 70 series is the gift that keeps on giving. Since releasing its first volume back in 2001, subtitled The Definitive Story of Funky Lagos, the label has served as a reliable source for some of the finest music to come out of 1970s and 80s Nigeria from an ever-widening range of genres, going far beyond the Fela tunes we already know for deep dive after deep dive.
Eight years have passed since the most recent installment, Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju from 1970s Lagos. Now, Strut releases No Wahala: Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987, which is a very similar title with some changes in word order and a jump into the next decade. Like its immediate predecessor, it looks at songs with brighter sounds and faster beats, music in the vein of King Sunny Adé and Shina Peters on the one hand and Sir Victor Uwaifo on the other.
The bold brass of Odeyemi’s “Oni Suru” kicks off the album. Mixing 1980s synths with bright highlife horns and guitars, it makes for a solid start to No Wahala. Following it is the album’s first English-language track, “Sickness” by popular 1970s artist Prince Nico Mbarga and his band Rocafil Jazz International. A light dance melody belies a heavy plea for forgiveness from God in the midst of high worldwide death tolls, a reminder that floating pop jams are just as compatible with raw emotion as any somber folk ballad.
A stronger funk vibe comes through on Felixson Ngasia and the Survivals’ “Black Precious Colour”, a song with equal power to its predecessor on the album and more empowering themes. Ngasia demands liberation, and does so in the form of electric disco. Calls to action keep coming on soft-spoken Sina Bakare’s samba-adjacent “Africa”, a track encouraging the revival and revitalization of black cultural traditions in Africa and decrying widespread war and injustice across the continent and slightly beyond, naming as some prominent examples Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Israel, South Africa… the list goes on. Ngasia and Bakare side by side make for a powerful block of songs based around pan-African solidarity, and the inclusion of such tracks on an after-the-fact compilation like No Wahala is crucial for international audiences who might not otherwise grasp the context behind the dancefloor-ready beats.
With that said, “Special Secret of Baby” comes next, a slow jam by Saxon Lee and the Shadows International with a jazzy trumpet solo enhancing the song’s amorous atmosphere. It leads into three breezy highlife numbers: “Obonogmozu” by Osayomore Joseph and the Creative 7, “Onuma Dimnobi” by the International Brothers Band, and “Kinuye” by Don Bruce and the Angels. The last of these moves in a more psychedelic direction, building a bridge into Rogana Ottah and His Black Heroes Int.’s frenzied “Let Them Say” and slower, grander “Psychedelic Shoes” – a departure for highlife hero Etubom Rex Williams, who leads His Nigerien Artistes here in glorious buildup based largely on keys and percussion.
Closing the album is a Latin-influenced track by Sir Victor Uwaifo himself, “Iziegbe”, a smooth demonstration of highlife that truly engages rather than sits in the background, and then gorgeous “Mundiya Loju” by M.A. Jaiyesimi and His Crescent Bros Band. Steely guitar echoes over a simple, lively duple rhythm on the album’s shortest track (three minutes, while most clock in between six and eight) and makes for a soothing finale.
Strut consistently does what every label based around reissuing compilations should strive to do: sets a high standard and then continues to raise the bar. Without a second of filler, the team does it once more – for their 20th anniversary, no less – with No Wahala, continuing to fill in the sonic picture of 1970s and 1980s Nigerian music for today’s audience.