Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju from 1970s Lagos is the third compilation from Strut Record’s well-liked series Nigeria 70. As with the previous instalments it focuses on the sound of Seventies Nigeria and has been compiled by Duncan Brooker. Now, there are a lot of people who proudly label themselves ‘musos’, on a crusade to tell the world what music they should be listening to. Basically imitations of Jimmy Rabbitte from Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments or someone from Nick Hornby’s Hi-Fidelity. Some would argue that these reliable people in anoraks are the backbone of our country (others might disagree). The problem is that Duncan Brooker has not only raised the ‘muso’ bar, he has opted to whittle it into a crude weapon to keep other vinyl enthusiasts in their place.
Rather than hunting for an Orange Juice single in a dusty back room, Brooker explores a whole continent for rare records. He has done a lot to promote African music to a population, who - aside from name checking Fela Kuti or Tony Allen - probably wouldn’t have a clue where to begin. I’ve stumbled across a few interviews online with Brooker which were illuminating. It is obvious how genuine and enthusiastic his passion for African music is (I was initially sceptical, anticipating a middle class white chap with dreadlocks, boasting about having a token black friend – this is not the case). The official release promises the finished record will boast 'extensive' liner notes from John Collins (sadly not the ex-footballer, but a music journalist) which should be an informative and useful accompaniment to the songs (I would still like to hear the other John Collin’s opinion on African Pop roots. We can save it for the deluxe edition).
After pressing play and when the rhythm eventually kicks off on ‘Life’ by Moneyman and The Super 5 International, you feel great. There is an infectious positive energy to these recordings that overcomes any lingering negativity. Pure, natural, soulful music with a killer groove. It doesn’t sound like any of the musicians are even trying. Melodies and rhythms falling off of them as easily as dead skin.
The promo copy is not the final mastered version, so there is still a bit of hissing courtesy of the original untreated vinyl sources. Yet instead of being irritating, It almost adds to the atmosphere.
In compiling Sweet Times Brooker has collected some of the most impressively named bands that I’ve ever come across onto one record. Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey & His International Brothers, Dr Victor Olaiya’s International All-Stars, and The Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination are the best of a brilliant bunch.
The second half of the album is mellower than the positively vivacious opening salvo. ‘Bisi’s Beat’ is a soulful, emotional plea to live in peace, while ‘Ama Mbre Ewa’ provides an ambient feel courtesy of its prominent lazy horn section.
In theory, all compilations should feel like a greatest hits collection, but somehow there are still so many duds populating the world. Yet because the songs gel together so well Sweet Times doesn’t even feel like a compilation. The track-listing must have had a lot of thought behind it. The only drawback with the record is its length. Endurance training might be required when listening to a few of the instrumental wanderings. The average track is six minutes long, with Admiral Dele Abiodun's ‘It’s Time for Juju Music’ coming in at a clock sapping 15 minutes.
I’m wary of coming across as a born again Christian in this review, spreading the good word to the masses. I’m not advocating you purge your record collection and subsequently import everything from Lagos, but if you want to get your head out of the incestuous western music industry rat race, to cleanse your palette for a while, then I’d heartily recommend Sweet Times. It doesn’t always have to be in a shiny new package with a £40 haircut.
If that doesn’t sway you, surely you’ll buy it for the album cover alone? If Mick’n’Keef bonded over Jagger’s records at the train station, just think who you might befriend with this bad boy under your arm.
8Andrew Kennedy's Score