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Various: Nigeria Freedom Sounds!: Popular Music and the Birth of Independent Nigeria 1960-1963

This new Soul Jazz Records set is pure listening pleasure and a perfect jumping off point for listeners curious about popular music beyond Europe and North America.
Various Artists
Nigeria Freedom Sounds!: Popular Music and the Birth of Independent Nigeria 1960-1963
Soul Jazz
2016-07-22

When it comes to the music of Nigeria, the experience of most listeners begins and ends with Fela Kuti. While Kuti is a legend and worthy of the stature he is afforded, it does a disservice to a country to have their musical output reduced to one figure, no matter how talented. The music of Jamaica gets similar treatment with reggae music and Bob Marley, though more deeper-delving fans likely have familiarity with a few of the excellent Trojan Records compilations or the soundtrack to The Harder They Come. The latter was reissued in 2003 with a bonus disc titled Reggae Hit the Town: Crucial Reggae 1968-1972, a collection of notable early reggae and genre precursors: ska and rocksteady.

Soul Jazz Records’ Nigeria Freedom Sounds!: Popular Music and the Birth of Independent Nigeria 1960-1963 fulfills a similar function with regard to contextualizing and understanding the foundational forces of a genre. The extensive liner notes give insight into the beginnings of independent music in Nigeria, the flowering of that musical scene coinciding with Nigeria’s independence from the British crown.

There are musician biographies, photographs, and plenty of other important details behind the music. 

The musicians featured across the 23 tracks take a musically omnivorous approach in their blend of disparate genres. Along with Nigerian musical forms like juju and apala, there’s Calypso and Ghanian highlife. Apala and highlife are both genres that bear the stamp of Cuban music, the complex rhythms of Cuban music in the case of apala and the arpeggios one expects in Afro-Cuban jazz in the case of highlife.

As a result, the music feels familiar, yet intoxicatingly new. One of the greatest joys for anyone with even an iota of interest in music is seeing the way different genres and approaches to music influence one and other. British Invasion groups weren’t doing anything particularly innovative at first, merely filtering American rock ‘n’ roll through a decidedly British lens. It sounded familiar, but different enough to set it apart from contemporary American records.

One can see a similar cultural exchange take place with the music of New Orleans and Jamaica. Fats Domino was a major influence on the development of ska, with his accenting of the offbeat in his piano player, a calling card of the music of Jamaica.

As a collection, Nigeria Freedom Sounds! merely whets the appetite rather than sating it fully. That the collection focuses on a smaller number of artists allows the listener to get a general sense of what the artist is about while giving them ample reason to dive deeper in their back catalogues. The music is generally upbeat and hopeful, matching the optimism of newly free Nigeria. 


There’s a foreshadowing of the doom to come on the standout track “Lumumba Calypso” which recounts the death of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of Congo, also an important figure in the struggle for Congolese Independence. It’s a harrowing track in context; the military coups and the civil war are still several years away. They were the fuel for much of Fela Kuti’s work, so in a sense the compilation provides the musical and thematic foundation for Kuti.

Nigeria Freedom Sounds!: Popular Music and the Birth of Independent Nigeria 1960-1963 is pure listening pleasure and a perfect jumping off point for listeners curious about popular music beyond Europe and North America.

RATING 8 / 10
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