Album Review | Sternsmusic | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5
Urgent Jumping the compilation is twenty seven tracks, nearly 150 minutes, of a rich cross section of music recorded in East Africa between 1972 and 1982. Through, what influential club DJ John Armstrong’s extensive sleeve notes call the boom years, African musicians flocked to East Africa, especially Nairobi. Here they could record through the day and play at a club through the night. Congolese musicians and players from South Africa, Kenya itself, Tanzania, Zambia and beyond played together, switching bands, swapping tunes, performing and jamming. Building the music that you hear here. Fuelled by Kenyan independence, investment by the multinational labels and the influx of talent from all across sub Saharan Africa, there was a strong and skilled recording industry in Nairobi in the early 60s. The label Sterns, has been fortunate in securing access to an extensive library of East African music, much of what you are listening to was originally issued on 7”, singles and as such has remained unheard since original release. In many cases the Kenyan label releases now commanding three figure sums at auction. The array of riches on offer across this double CD are incredible, both in their breadth and their power, there is the hypnotic chiming electric guitar with a jazzy lead on tracks like L’Orchestre Grand Piza’s “Oboti Kolisa” from 1976 and L’Orch Moja One’s “Dunia Ni Duara” from 1982. There are 60s psychedelic garage band keyboards and prescient 80s electronica on the Sunburst Band’s “Matatizo Nyumbani” from 1973 and Hafusa Abasi & Slim Ali and the Kikulacho Yahoos Band track “Sina Raha”. “Sina Raha”, with its compelling bass and percussion beat, other worldly keyboards, beguiling compressed vocal chorus, soulful brass lines and spoken interlude is a case in point, a four and a half minute sonic jewel and it was only a B side. Here it is lifted from the tape vault of history’s amnesia for your delight, and a delight it is. Tracks like the Sunburst’s Band 1973 “Enzi Za Utunwani”, with its frenetic beat, 60s organ sound and its psychedelic lead guitar chimes with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Santana, this is very much not from isolated backwater. Some like L’Orch Dar International’s “Rafiki Sina” with instruments and voices suggesting birdsong, lean towards 90s journeys into chill out music. Some tracks like L’Orch Dar International’s “Chama Kimoja” and Juwata Jazz Band’s “Mpenzi Zalina” are so steeped in reverb and tape compression, and are as grainy as any artefact from Lee Scratch Perry’s Black Ark studios that they sound like shortwave radio transmissions. But these imperfections are reminders, like patina, that we are listening to messages from another time and a distant place. What ties everything together, as musicians from across the continent blend together their playing, layering in those chiming guitars, the afro rock beats, the Cuban rhythms and the brass lines is the infectious beat. Fundamentally this is all dance music, club music to move to, sounds that put a smile on your face. The set is aptly titled. It is too easy to think of Africa as one place, rather than a continent of different cultures and peoples with individual and sometimes disparate identities. The 60s gave us the politically exiled music of musicians from South Africa, the 70s the shamanistic dark jazz funk of Fela Kuti from Nigeria. The 80s gave us Jit from Zimbabwe. More recently Mali’s Desert Blues with the Kora and its re-appropriated, possible descendent, the electric guitar and the music of the Tuareg people have enriched international music fans. Now it is time that we looked in depth at the musical legacy of the East.