With nearly all the news filtering out of North Africa these days concerned with the anti-groove, zero-fun Islamic extremists holding Mali’s rich tradition hostage, a new release of sunny Afrobeat and the very first outside-of-Nigeria release by Bongos Ikwue might be the perfect musical antidote.
The 70-year-old singer-songwriter celebrates 40 years in the business with a slick, slinky, modern-sounding mash-up of almost too many genres to list. From the zigzagging rubbery bass, punctuating horns and soaring violin of opener “Kongo Soldier,” it’s clear we’re in King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti land—but in a realm far more personal. Ikwue’s buttery croon is encroaching on Bill Withers territory, and his lyrics explore matters well beyond the beat; for example, the popish “How Long” explores “religious differences” and “why people do the things they do.” The unfortunate synth and nylon strings of the otherwise-stirring “Kankuwuchie,” and acoustic-based “Mustapha and Christopha” stray a bit too far from the deep richness of Nigerian funk-soul, proving again that social conscience can be a murderer of grooves. But in Africa the two are often inseparable. And no matter—if you’ve got just one cut like the finger-tangling, fluid funk of “Agbambo,” you’ve got living proof of a guitar-bass tradition as gnarly and spiced as any ever cooked up.