Rare groove as a political statement is the holy grail. These days DJ’s are feverishly scouring the globe in search of obscure funk and bizarre hybrids from the 60’s – 70’s, to bring to Western ears, the more exotic the better. Panama, Nigeria, Ethiopia, it’s a history lesson via the dance-floor. Here’s a few of the classiest more recent efforts.
“They wanted the kids to be afraid. But they weren’t afraid,” begins the liner notes to Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas (Tropicalia in Furs/ Fuse). They’re talking about rebellious music that was born from deep within a military dictatorship, where dissent came less from the lyrics, and more from the unique structures, booming drums and abrasive fuzz guitars. “You can just imagine the scene,” the notes continue, “a DJ hears something he likes and plays it on air, he quickly realises he messed up big time. The music though powerful is just too deep for his listeners.” It’s an urgent political statement, a funk call to arms, unity in the face of adversity. None of these artists went on to any great acclaim. In fact the majority of the tunes collected here were released as promo 45’s between 1967 and 1976 and if the band got some traction an album might’ve followed. Highlights include the opener Tema De Batman a loose cover of the Batman theme, featuring a way out psychedelic Brazilian Batman going to Mars to rescue Robin. It’s totally off it’s chops. A freak oddity. Then there’s Serguei, known as the Brazilian Iggy Pop who’s garage rock tune Ourico features him rasping about becoming a hedgehog.
Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound in 1970’s Nigeria (Soundway/ Fuse) should be subtitled ‘what Fela did to the Nigerian music scene in the 1970’s.’ It’s a document of highlife and dance bands struggling to cope with Afrobeat, the latest musical craze, and attempting to integrate it into their own styles. Fittingly it begins with the folks who wreaked this carnage, Fela Kuti & Africa 70, and their 1971 45 version of Who’re You? It’s relatively early Fela, still finding his style, repetitive vocals and taut instrumentation, not to mention modest running time of 8.35 that owes much to US funk music. Easily overlooked in his vast repertoire it’s without doubt the most explosive and commanding piece here. The remainder of the album is fascinating, but there’s one real nugget. It comes from Sunny Ade’s guitarist, Bob Ohiri, who with his Uhuru Sounds offer a genius hybrid: Psychedelic Afrobeat. Their tune Ariwo Yaa, with grinding sax and some pretty incredible stereo mixing almost sounds like two separate tunes crammed into one. It’s truly unique. Ohiri apparently only recorded this one solo effort in 1976. If the remainder of his album is anything like this monster then it’s the holy grail. As a whole this collection is a really curious mixture of restraint and bluster, a mash of styles. Some tracks you’d hesitate to label Afrobeat. Whilst the movement began with Fela, others with differing priorities and obsessions also took up the fight.
Back to Peru Vo.2 (Vampisoul/ Fuse) is about how music travels and is skewed by Chinese whispers across time and place. It bills itself as ‘the most complete compilation of Peruvian underground 1964 – 74,’ at thirty four tracks over two discs. The diversity suggests that Peru enjoyed a rich and vibrant music scene across the decade, very clearly inspired by the psychedelic rock, pop, soul, funk and jazz emanating from the UK and US, yet also taking a few steps of their own. It’s a rare groovers delight. If you’re after skewed psych soul reminiscent of Iron Butterfly, or raw slabs of steaming funk complete with that super cool and highly distinctive South American fuzz guitar, or even Latin garage rock stompers you’ll find them here. You can hear the Hendrix influence on tracks as diverse as Los Datsun’s urban funk monster En El Sol, or more overtly, bordering on homage on Pax’s Sittin on My Head, which is the way Jimi would’ve sounded had he been born in Peru. Then there’s a few curve-balls like Monik’s Maybe I Know, a bubble-gum do wop girl band that sound like they’ve stepped straight out of the UK in the fifties. While we expect Latin funk freak-outs like the urgent opener Cacique from Cacique or even some of the raw garage rock offerings, the sheer diversity of styles and approaches here lends a feeling of greater scope, like it’s a deeper more complex assessment of the time as a whole.