Nigeria Soul Power 70 is an extremely generic title for what is yet another excellent Soul Jazz Records compilation of fantastic vintage tracks – ones so good that it’s hard to even scold the label for being so straightforward. It is, after all, very convenient when the label matches the contents, and this is nothing if not a collection of powerful soul music from 1970s Nigeria. I’m genuinely not mad about it.
Originally released for Record Store Day, Nigeria Soul Power 70 is longer now, an expanded double LP set chock full of, as its sleeve indicates, Afro-funk, Afro-rock, and Afro-disco. It’s hard to imagine that, by the time they have taken in the front cover, a potential listener could not know exactly what to expect. This is a good enough collection, though, that it’s worth talking about before it ends up a staple of every vintage-oriented DJ’s record collection – basically a foregone conclusion if there’s any fairness in the world.
The range of music on Nigeria Soul Power 70 impresses. Geraldo Pino opens the first record with “Shake Hands” and closes the last with “Africans Must Unite”. The first is a disco track from the start, a catchy chorus of “Shake hands / With your friends” bridging calls of “Stand up, soul brother!” and “United we stand / Divided we fall.” It’s nothing too difficult to parse, and absolutely ideal for a socially conscious 1970s disco track. “Africans Must Unite” starts as a swaying, flute-adorned anthem in favor of pan-African identity before itself picking up a faster groove that urges Africans to “raise your voice as one voice” as synths and drums drive the song to its close.
In between is a little bit of everything. “Dance of the Elephants”, a rocking march led by Sonny Okosuns Ozziddi, emphasizes call-and-response vocals over all else, but still makes room for brass, rhythm, and the occasional thin stream of an electric guitar. The Wings introduce fast-moving psychedelia with the less predictable “We’ll Get Home”. Traces of highlife linger in the percussion of blissfully electronic “E Ye Ika Se”, a track credited to Alhaji (Chief) Prof. Kollington Ayinla that overlays a chorus of otherwise unembellished human voices with a cosmic melodic vision. Group Colomach takes a gritty garage rock approach to “Kassa Kpa Sama Kpa”, while “Heavy Heavy Heavy”, another Pino cut, is a much fuller funk.
In sharp contrast to Pino’s philosophical optimism is MFB’s “Beware”, a track that warns its audience that everyone has an agenda. Tony Grey and the Ozimba Messengers’ jazzy “You Are the One” uses sax to great advantage before cymbal fills color it with more funk. Ozziddi returns with “Oba Erediawa I”, a crisp disco cut. The Wings’ “Single Boy” smacks of Motown warmth while still comfortably including funky complexities before Pino returns yet again with “Power to the People”, another demonstration of his penchant for switching the tempo up higher halfway through a song. Original Wings’ “Igba Alusi” starts with an acoustic introduction of voice and wooden drums, but eventually includes some of the most intriguing, Hendrix-esque guitar work to be found in the mix. Don Bruce and the Angels’ “Sugar Baby”, the penultimate song, has easy pop vocals over unpredictable lyrics, melodies, and synth lines that occasionally wouldn’t sound amiss in the Talking Heads’ peak years.
Of course, none of this truly does justice to the individual tracks on Nigeria Soul Power 70, an album that has to be heard to be appreciated for its variety. The truly astounding fact is that in spite of the number of compilations of Nigerian popular music from the 1970s, a finite supply by definition, Soul Jazz has, once again, put together a gloriously new combination. It’s well worth the time of all vinyl-accumulating fans of the style.