Article MT037

Highlife Piccadilly

African Music on 45 rpm records in the UK, 1954-1981


On the evening of Saturday 17th March 1958, the British independent television channel ATV, broadcast the first of a series of six new plays by Wolf Mankowitz, entitled The Killing Stones.  The plays were set in South Africa, and to add local colour, the series used a tune by a group of African musicians by the name of Elias and the Zig Zag Jive Flutes, entitled Tom Hark.  Unexpectedly, the record of this tune, (Columbia DB 4109 Tom Hark / Ry Ry), became a best seller, staying in the UK charts for 14 weeks, and reaching No.2.  It was unexpected because this type of music was previously more or less unknown in the UK, although kwela or tin whistle jive was increasingly popular in South Africa at this time.  Tom Hark stands, even now, as one of the very few records of authentic vernacular music to penetrate so high into the UK charts (nominations for other candidates for this honour in letters to the editor please).

The UK record industry of the time, though, scented the possibility of another trend.  No doubt at this early date, many in the business still felt that rock 'n' roll was no more than a passing phase, and were on the look out for what was going to replace it in the hearts of the record-buying public.  Spurred on by Tom Hark's success, most other companies had a go with some kwela.  Columbia tried another by Elias and the Zig Zag Jive Flutes Zeph Boogie / Vuka Magcabeni (Columbia DB 4146) and one by Black Mambazo, the original group, from which the famous Ladysmith group took its name.  One of the most popular kwela groups in South Africa in the 1950s, Matshutshu / Fuzzy Night (Columbia DB4135) was, of course, their only UK issue, as it failed to follow the success of Tom Hark.  Decca used Little Lemmy and Big Joe's Kwela No.5 / Little Lemmy Kwela (Decca F11054).  Setting the kwela whistle of the teenage Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso against a smooth alto sax, makes this jazzier in flavour than the Zig Zags.  The now long defunct Oriole label tried Spokes Mashiyane's Jika Spokes / The Boys of Jo'burg (Oriole 1441).  This features some fine relaxed, bluesy solo whistle playing by one of the kwela greats, with sparse rhythm accompaniment, from Ben Nkosi on side one and France Pilane on side two.  The label of this record features the description 'Kwela Penny Whistle Jive' in larger type and a more prominent position than the names of the artists, which tells us a lot about the attitude of the record company.  Finally, HMV's attempt to get in on the kwela act featured Alexander Shamber's Boys on Dintho / Holom Toe HMV POP496.  Alexander Shamba (usual spelling) was a popular kwela artist back in South Africa.  All of these attempts to ride the momentum of a new trend were to fail, and while Tom Hark turns up regularly in oldies shops and car boot sales, the rest of these records are now very rare (I've yet to see a copy of the HMV).

Incidentally, Tom Hark was also very popular in other versions - there was one by the Ted Heath Band that also made the charts and even a ska version in the early 1960s on the Blue Beat label.  In the US, a record issued under the title Windy, on Argo 5300 as by the Paul Gayten Orchestra, was in fact a faithful rendition of Tom Hark, performed by the Ramsay Lewis Trio!

In any case, the little burst of activity stimulated by The Killing Stones contributed nicely to the catalogue of authentic African music on 45 rpm singles released in the UK.  What may surprise some readers is how many more there have been - bearing in mind that the 45 is generally aimed at some kind of mass market, rather than at enthusiasts of ethnic music - and this article is an attempt to uncover some of the rare gems that have appeared.  Just to set the parameters a bit, my use of 'authentic' is primarily meant to exclude records by African artists that are purely in a Western idiom, such as jazz or rock.  That this is an entirely subjective view, reflecting the writer's own perceptions - and indeed tastes - will become apparent as the article proceeds.  The timespan chosen runs from the time of the emergence of the 45 rpm record in the early 1950s, to 1981, the year when Island Records launched their African series, after which things changed dramatically; 'World Music' became fashionable, and this led to the first concerted attempts to market a wide range of African popular music in the UK.  For a while this produced regular 45 rpm releases, but the start of that era seems like a convenient place to close the one under consideration here.  The intention is to cover only those records which were actually issued in the UK, however tentatively.  A very large number of records manufactured in this country (and bearing the legend 'Made In England') during the period in question, were intended for sale exclusively in Africa.  These - the great 'yellow Decca' series is perhaps the best known example - certainly merit attention, but are not covered here (maybe a future article, if there is any interest).  Over the years a steady, if thin, stream of 45 rpm singles, covering a wide variety of African music, have been issued in this country.  These have often been rather obscure, but sometimes they have been on major labels, and a few (admittedly a very few) have even achieved some commercial success.

The original idea, mooted to the editor of Musical Traditions several years ago, was to attempt a comprehensive annotated discography, listing authentic African music issued on singles in the UK, from 1954 until 1981.  As the years have passed, for various reasons, it has seemed increasingly unlikely that such a project would be possible (for this writer, anyway), but it seems worth at least putting something down in writing to broach what to me is a fascinating subject.  This article, then, is intended to be an introductory survey, partly out of general interest, and partly to test whether there are other interested parties who can provide supplementary information.  The survey is certainly neither complete, nor completely accurate (quite a lot of what is here is guesswork) and any additions, corrections or supplementary information would be very welcome.

Other South African Sounds:

Even before the kwela days, Decca had tried some Southern African sounds with the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band's Skokiian / In The Mood (Decca F10350) in 1954.  The group's original name was the Bulawayo Cold Storage Band (they all worked in a refrigeration plant), but it was changed for this record's release in the US.  Apparently it was very successful there, and a photograph of the group (whose leader was one August Msarugwa) is said to have appeared on the front of Cashbox magazine.  A record I have seen in a listing, but know nothing more about is the Zulu Rhythm Kings's Fanagalo / Believe Me (Decca F10784), from 1956.  This may be township swing, but then again it may not.  Decca tried again with some more South African music the following year, when they released the Manhattan Brothers Lovely Lies / Kilimanjaro (Decca F10665) in 1955.  Probably the most popular group in South Africa at the time, they nevertheless failed to make an impression in this country.  Eight years later, Columbia tried with them, releasing Baby Baby / Mbombela (Columbia DB7142) in 1963 and Wimoweh / Blue Sky (Columbia DB7274) the following year.  By this time, the group was based in the UK; note that they bowed to the prevailing international spelling of Mbube - Wimoweh.  They also made an LP around this time, and the fact that it was recorded live at Cecil Sharp House and entitled Concert of Zulu Folk Songs (Tropitone CP27) is an indication that their audience here was somewhat specialist, despite their mass appeal back home.

The interest in South African music was probably stimulated to some extent by the success of the stage musical King Kong, from the original cast sound track of which a number of singles appeared.  King Kong owed almost as much to the traditions of Broadway as those of the townships, so these are not listed here.  Miriam Makeba also benefited from the interest, with The Click Song / Mbube (London HL9747) from1960, even if much of its original popularity rested on the novelty appeal of the click Xhosa vocals.  Mbube is a superb version of the best known of all South African songs.  The label of London 9747 bears the note 'Recorded for GALLO (AFRICA) Ltd'.  Makeba moved to the US, and there were a couple of singles later in the decade: Pata Pata / Ballad of the Sad Young Men, Reprise 20606 (1967) and Malayisha / Ring Bell Ring Reprise 20654 (1968).

Hugh Masekela's Grazing In The Grass / Bajabula Bonke (Uni UN504) from1968 was a No.1 hit single in the USA, surely the only record by any African artist to achieve that.  Despite its slick arrangement, it is steeped in the township jazz from which Masekela had come.  It did very little in the UK, however, and nor did the follow-up I Haven't Slept / Where has all the Grass Gone (Uni UN510).  A few years later, West Nkosi's township sax jive pairing Two Mabone / 1815 Special, Decca FR13464, made an odd speculative UK release - now itís as rare as henís teeth.

I donít know anything about three Columbia releases by the Shangaans Ngenzeni / Yeh Girl Columbia DB7551; Click Song / Liwa Wechi Columbia DB7671; Taboo / Ntjilo, Ntjilo Columbia DB7754, all from 1965.  But I have turned up a copy of The Big Fourís Woza Friday / Thalaza Ngizwa Epic S EPC 8180 (1972), which appears to be a UK release.  A stunning coupling of accordion-led mbaqanga, this was a very strange release for the CBS subsidiary better known for selling millions of records by Michael Jackson.  The copy to hand is a promo or demo copy, and it may well be that it never got past this stage, although a release date is given.


There were many African bands active in London during the '50s and '60s, mainly from West Africa, and frequently mixing musicians from different coutries.  The result was a distinctive highlife sound, frequently quite different from what you would have expected to hear back in Nigeria or Ghana.  Many of these bands recorded for the Melodisc label.  Melodisc deserves an article to itself (and somebody else would be better qualified to write it), but suffice to say here that it issued an incredibly wide range of music on singles, from merengue by Enrique Aviles to calypso by Mighty Sparrow, from R&B by Louis Jordan to the theme from the Thunderbirds puppet series.  What follows is a summary of their single releases in various African styles; Iíve included all I know about, which may mean that some of the releases listed below were only issued on 78s, not on 45s - who knows?

Ayinde Bakare was one of the great names of juju, with a large number of records issued in Nigeria both before and after the war.  His Melodisc sides (Melodisc 1406, 1431, 1446, 1465, 1467, 1492, 1588) as by Ayinde Bakare and his Meranda Orchestra were recorded in the late 1950s in London.  It is extraordinary to think of this deeply African music - the orchestra consists of four percussionists accompanying Bakare's acoustic or lightly amplified guitar - being issued on singles in this country.  I have not heard all of these, but those I have are wonderful records, and must rank among the greatest treasures of all UK African 45s.  Melodisc issued a whole LP of this material in 1968 (Live the Highlife, MLPAS 12-140).

The largest number of African issues on Melodisc were by Ambrose Campbell and the West African Rhythm Brothers (Melodisc 1322, 1338, 1342, 1348, 1357, 1375, 1385, 1389, 1391, 1394, 1395, 1398, 1408, 1414, 1425, 1438, 1442, 1444, 1462, 1487, 1505, 1513, 1526, 1541, 1557, 1567, 1568, and HI1).  Ambrose Adekoya Campbell was a Nigerian guitarist and bandleader, resident in London for many years.  The West African Rhythm Brothers were his long-standing London-based band, who had already been recording in the 78 era.  I am unsure as to how all of these records are credited - some may be under just Campbell's name, some under the band's and some under both.  The ones I have heard of these are beautiful, relaxed highlife, with piano and clarinet prominent.  Campbell also made an LP, issued in 1968, entitled Highlife Today (Columbia SX 6081).  Also prolific were the Nigerian Union Rhythm Band an offshoot of Campbell's West African Brothers, led by guitarist Brewster Hughes (Melodisc 1364, 1379, 1399, 1418, 1426, 1454, 1463, 1468, 1483, 1493, 1497, 1514, 1525, 1535, 1540, 1558), and Rans Boiís Ghana Highlife Band led by Ghanaian guitarist of that name (Melodisc 1405, 1469, 1481, 1496, 1508, 1509, 1534, 1539, 1548, 1556).

Another major figure was Ginger Folorons Johnson (Melodisc 1327, 1343, 1354, 1424, 1486).  Originally from Nigeria, Johnson lived in London from the 1940s until the 1970s, and played percussion with many different bands, although ironically, he is probably most famous for his brief appearance, with his African Drummers, on stage with the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park in 1969.  He also had a 10" LP on Melodisc (Contemporary Mood - probably just as rare as the singles) and a fine LP in 1967, with his band the African Messengers (African Party - Masquerade 2001).  He had played with Kenny Grahamís Afro Cubans, and was evidently fond of Latin music, as evidenced by the delightful titles of some of his Melodisc releases: Africa Jazz Cha Cha; Egypt Bint Al Cha Cha and Wee Tom Cha Cha.

From Sierra Leone, came Ali Ganda / Lord Ganda, whose songs were heavily influenced by Trinidadian calypso (Melodisc 1346, 1358, 1373, 1396, 1417, 1456,1502, 1528, 1564, 1574).  He was clearly one for marking the momentous occasion, and liked to pay tribute both to British royalty and to the emerging independent nations of Africa, as his songs included: The Queen Visits Nigeria; Ghana Forward Forever; H.M. Queen Elizabeth & H.R.H. Prince Philip come to Sierra Leone; Nigeria is Free; and Freedom, Freedom Sierra Leone (1961).  His accompanists included at various times the Trinidadian Rupert Nurse (or Nerse) and the Latin American Enrique Aviles.  Another artist who mixed calypso influences in to his highlife sound was Bliff Radie Byne, who recorded Victory for Sierra Leone / Independence Merengue and Liberia, accompanied by the Ivan Chin Rhythm Sextet: 'Liberia, the land of freedom and fun ... '.

Other Africans recorded by Melodisc include: Tommy Odueso's Akesan Highlifers (Melodisc 1466, 1488, 1542), Suberu Oni and His Group, Willie Payne (Melodisc 1471, 1495), Steve Rhodes, Billy Sholanke (Melodisc 1484), Tunji Sowande (Melodisc 1332), Tejan-Sie (Melodisc 1575), King Jimmy (Melodisc 1565), Adam's African Sky Rockets / Adam's Folk Singers (Melodisc 1374, 1439,1455, 1478), Nat Atkins and his Crazy Bees (Melodisc 1392, 1428, 1494, 1511, 1533) , Enoch and Christy Mensah (Melodisc 1569), Banna Kanukeh (Melodisc 1445), Ade Kunle's High Life Beats (1423, 1470), Victor Coker, Edwin Lamptey (Melodisc 1482), The Ghana Teenagers (1422, 1464).  Iím afraid I canít say anything about these records as Iíve never heard them, although I would very much like to.

There are two records I will give special mention to.  The first is Flash Domincii & The Supersonicsí Rora Rora Majo Omo Pupa on Melodisc 1612 (1965).  This fascinating band included (although not necessarily at the time of this recording) Ghanaians Teddy Osei, who later started Osibisa, and Sammy Obot, formerly of the Broadway Dance Band, as well as Nigerians Ade Bashorun, who also played with Ambrose Campbell, Peter King who had been with the African Messengers, and later made recordings in his own right, and Fred Coker who joined Assagai.  Despite the future Afrorockers, at this stage the idiom was still highlife, and Rora Rora is a terrific performance, driven powerfully along by the brass, clashing with a rough electric guitar riff.  The flip side of this record was a reissue of one by the Nigerian Union Rhythm Band.  Dominciiís band issued an EP in 1967 entitled Christmas Highlife Music (Colortone EP 101, notable for an amazing highlife rendering of Mary's Boy Child), and an LP The Great & Expensive Sounds of the Supersonics.  Six tracks by them, including Rora Rora, appeared on a Melodisc highlife anthology.  Domincii must have a thing about Christmas, as much later he made an LP of Christmas Highlife in New York.

The second is by Lonely Lamptey and the People's Highlife Band featuring Eddie 'Red' Tettey.  Lamptey made a number of singles for Melodisc (1527, 1549, 1594, 1602); he was Ghanaian in origin, and these superb records are firmly in the 'danceband' highlife idiom.  One particularly interesting record is Tse-Tse Fly, which is sung in English and tells why 'West Africa is called the white man's grave' (they all get diseases from the tse-tse fliesí bites, in case youíre wondering).

The latest African Melodisc issue I have come across is by Tunde Nightingale and his Highlife Boys: Agbogun Gboro / Kole Si Se Melodisc 1681 (1968).  Nightingale was a major figure in juju music back in Nigeria, and this record seems to have been made during a brief visit to the UK.  Melodisc also issued a superb LP from the same sessions (The Bird that Sings All the Night, MLPAS 12-142), which featured different tracks to those on the single.

Finally, a couple of oddities: two releases by artists from outside West Africa.  First, Dorothy Masukaís Zoo Lake / Khauleza Melodisc 1518 (1950s).  Masuka comes from Zimbabwe, although she worked in South Africa for some years, enjoying a reputation similar to that of Miriam Makeba, for mixing jazz influences with more indigenous sounds.  She was still active into the 1990s, with a UK album issued in 1991.  Second, Dixie Kwankwa: My Nyasaland Love / I Left My Heart in Rhodesia, Melodisc 1573 (c.1961).  A pair of sentimental songs, given an almost understated reading by female singer, with gentle accompaniment from Frank Deniz and his Afro-Cubans.  On Nyasaland, the effect is reminiscent of Zambian singer Alick Nkhata (see his fine collection on Retroafric 4CD), but Rhodesia is closer to Harry Belafonte.

Fela Kuti

I have put this mini section here because Fela's (probably) first ever record appeared on Melodisc: Agigana / Fela's Special (Melodisc 1532).  I have never heard this record, but would dearly like to.  At this time, he was still an unknown highlife musician, based in London.  There have been rumours that there were other releases during this time on his own R-K label, but Iíve never come across any hard evidence for this.  Later in his career, when he was hugely popular and selling thousands of records in Africa, there were further single releases in the UK, as various companies (understandably) thought he had crossover potential.  First was Egbe Mi O / Chop and Quench on Regal Zonophone RZ3052 (1972); then Shakara / Shakara Part 2 on Creole CR105 (1975); and finally, Sorrow, Tears and Blood / Colonial Mentality on Arista 408 (1981).  Probably the best known African musician in this country during the 1970s, these sporadic attempts to promote him for mass consumption have perhaps not been helped by the truncated versions of his records that have had to appear on 7" singles.  The existence of the Melodisc single seems not to be widely known; it is not included in the discography in his official biography (Fela - This Bitch of a Life).

African sounds on Ska and Rocksteady labels:

As Africans mixed with West Indians in London, it is hardly surprising that some good African records appeared on the plethora of independent labels that sprung up to market Caribbean music to the growing immigrant community.  The earliest I have found (not counting Melodisc) are The African Messengers Highlife Piccadilly / Blues for the Messengers Carnival CV7013, and Niger Blues / Come Back to Me Carnival CV7021, both from 1964.  These sides are variously Highlife and Afro-tinged jazz, from a band that included the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Peter King (not the jazz saxophonist of the same name), and trumpeter Mike Falana, also from Nigeria, who later played R&B with Graham Bond.  Ginger Johnson made an LP in 1967 with a band by this name (see above), with a similar instrumental lineup, but the relationship between the two bands is not known and Johnson is not included in the personnel listed on the labels of these two records.  Incidentally, Highlife Piccadilly and its flip were re-issued on Page One POF23043 (1967).  Another release was Jimmy Scottís Ob La Di Ob La Da Story on Revolution REV2 (1968).  I donít know what was on the B-side of this.  Scott was a London-based highlife bandleader, apparently known for his catchphrase 'life goes on'.  Chris Stapleton reports a rumour that the Beatles paid him a once-off sum for his song.  This issue (of which I know nothing except its existence) dates from the same year as the Beatles 'White Album', so may have been an attempt to cash back in.

In the same year Nigerian juju giant Dele Ojo was on tour in Britain and released Mura Si Ise / Awuke, Giant PR-500-6.  Giant was one of a number of ska and rocksteady labels which operated from a small record shop in North London, a subsidiary of R&B Records (named - believe it or not - after Rita and Benny, the shop's owners!).  So far as I know this was the only African record they attempted, but there may be more, and Iíd be very interested to know if there were.  Itís a fine, unusual coupling by one of the biggest of the 1960s juju stars, whose many Nigerian releases (with his Star Brothers Band) appeared on the Philips and Badejo's labels.

I feel sure there must have been more odd African issues on West Indian labels, but the only other one Iíve come across is Nigerian Sonny Okosunís Fire in Soweto / Papa's Land released on the reggae label Radic RIC 105 (1977).  Produced by Eddy Grant, this coupling, heavily influenced by Bob Marley's Survival LP, had been a big hit for Okosun in West Africa, but it didnít happen in the UK.

Akie Deen's labels:

A key figure in the 1970s was the producer Akie Deen, from Sierra Leone; Deen used several record labels, including Afrodisc, Rokel and Sabanoh Sounds, to promote West African music around London.  This produced some fascinating, if rather obscure records, including undiluted popular African sounds as well as hybrids mixing in Caribbean elements such as reggae and soca.  The eventual result was a cosmopolitan disco sound typified by the records of Bunny Mack (not included here), also from Sierra Leone, but along the way there were some much more interesting productions (to me, anyway).  Best of all are probably Afro Akinoís Maria / Hwe Anna Afrodisc 1001 and Enkaa Akyiri / Egu Wo So Afrodisc 1002 (both from 1974) .  This was, in fact, the Ghanaian highlife guitar band Nana Ampadu and the African Brothers, recorded in London during a tour of the UK .  These two discs find them in less indigenous mode, with elements of merengue, reggae and Congolese rumba in evidence.  Deen described to John Collins how he was unable to sell them to record shops in London until they were featured on a pirate reggae radio station, after which there was considerable interest.  Another release on Afrodisc was Big Fayia & Afronationalís Rosaline / Blackpool Afrodisc 1004 (1976) (and I know of but, havenít heard, Alay Wu Waa by them on Afrodisc 1006).  Afronational was one of Sierra Leone's most successful bands in the 1970s, here accompanying Big Fayia, who had won the trip to London to record for Akie Deen, as a prize for writing Blackpool, a tribute to a successful football team (from Freetown - not the Stanley Matthews one).

Another of Deenís bands was Sabanoh 75 (Susana / Dada Evodia, Afrodisc 1005, 1976; Jerusalem / Mapenzi Badu Rokel 5002, 1976; Carry On / Arata Poison, Sabanoh Sounds SB75 103, 1976; Warn You Pikin / Salematu, Sabanoh Sounds SB75 106,1977) - four records on three different labels, mixing electrified palmwine sounds with highlife (some really fine music), as well as one reggae coupling.  Members of this band made up another band, Wagadu Gu, apparently created by Deen, especially for the studio.  They recorded Sweet Mother / Aki Special on Rokel SD RK 01 (1977) and Easy Dancing / Freetown Calypso on Rokel SD RK 04 (1979).  The first of these 12" singles comprises covers of popular records by Prince Nico Mbarga, the Nigerian highlife star (also covered by the Kenyan Slim Ali, see below).  The second mixes highlife and soca elements.  Miatta Fahnbullehís Amo Sakee Sa / Kokolioko on Rokel SD-RK 02 features this Liberian artist very pleasantly mixing West African and Caribbean influences.

From the numerical gaps, we must presume that there are probably other releases of interest on Deenís labels - I can only list the ones Iíve come across - but Iíve saved one of the best for last: Ade Forster-Jonesís Carolina / Tumba, Afrodisc 1008 (1977).  Ignore the very English-sounding name - this is a fascinating pairing of music from Sierra Leone (where Jones apparently worked at the national TV station).  Carolina updates Stay Carolina Stay, as sung in the 1950s by Freetown's Leading Sextet (see Sierra Leone Music, Zensor ZS41, an anthology of sides recorded in the '50s and early '60s, reviewed in Keskidee No.2), while Tumba is more reminiscent of the style Abdul Tee-Jay has made his own in recent years.  Lovely stuff.

The Afro prefix:

The 1970s were the decade of the Afro prefix.  Assagai and Osibisa made some impact on the rock and pop scene with their Afrorock; Manu Dibango scored dance hits with his Afrofunk; a couple of different labels tried their hand at getting Fela Kuti's Afrobeat to cross over, while others tried to market Afropop or Afroreggae.  The best known of these bands was Osibisa, led by Teddy Osei, who had played for several years in highlife bands around London (see Flash Domincii, above, for example).  They issued almost 20 singles between 1971 and 1980 (and have continued after the period covered here).  Their 'criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness' covered a wide range of sounds from almost straight Ghanaian highlife, through a 'pan-African' rock sound based on layers of percussion and horns, to Afro-tinged contemporary funk and soul.  Their two best known singles were Music for Gong-Gong / Woyaya (MCA MK5079) from 1971, and Sunshine Day / Bum to Bum (Bronze BRO20) which reached No.17 in 1975, making it one of only two records covered by this article to make the top 20 (c.f Tom Hark above).  The second best-known band Assagai, Dudu Pukwana's shortlived attempt at fusing his South African jazz sounds with rock, with Mongezi Feza (trumpet) and Bizo Mngqikana (tenor sax), as well as Nigerian guitarist Fred Coker.  They released two LPs and one single, on the progressive rock Vertigo label.  A later attempt with South African jazz was Jabula's Jabula Happiness / Baile they are Gone Virgin VS118 , from 1975, Afro-jazz from long-standing London-based band of South African musicians, led by percussionist Julian Bahula.

The Funkees were Nigerian musicians, based in London in the mid-1970s, performing a vigorous mixture of juju and Afrobeat influences.  Their two singles Tu Lay / Cool It Down (Contempo CS2058) from 1975 and the excellent Abraka / Ole (Black Magic BM 114) from the following year, appeared on labels primarily known for releasing American soul records.  Manu Dibango's singles made quite a lot of commercial noise in other countries, including the US, but didn't do too much in the UK, although half a dozen or so were issued here in the period under consideration.  His most famous Soul Makossa / Lily (London HL 10423) was released here in 1972, but the biggest seller (if the number of copies that surface in oldies shops is anything to go by) has to be Big Blow / Aloko Party (Decca FR 13755) from 1976.  Originally from Cameroon, Dibango has been based in Paris for many years.  Ghanaian trumpeter, Eddie Quansah, who had played with Teddy Osei in London highlife bands saw a single taken from his LP (Che Che Kule, Island ILPS 9446 - one of that label's earliest ventures into African music).  A somewhat over-rich mixture of contemporary Western influences and arrangements overwhelms a thin highlife base.

Miscellaneous records:

This last section is intended to mop up various odds and ends that I have come across collecting over the years.  There may be a lot more - I simply donít know.  Was there only ever one release on the Federal Eagle label?   If so, it was Olowo Okereís Ase Jere / Lagos Rock, Federal Eagle FER01 (late 1970s?) - modern-sounding juju, with what I can only describe as a 'dub' version on the B-side.  Victor Uwaifo was well known in Nigeria, but Abc / Destiny Joromi JD 4501 (1978) was his only UK release, a 12" single, featuring the originator of the akwete style of highlife in a mode calculated to appeal to a Western audience, one side with 'heavy' guitar, and the other using a reggae beat.  Slim Ali and the Famous Hodi Boys, like Wagadu Gu, also covered Sweet Mother / Aki Special on Contempo CS2132 (1978).  In this cover of Prince Nico Mbarga's two big West African hits, theyíre given a distinctly East African treatment by this Kenyan band; Contempo was a UK soul label.  A personal favourite is Gasper Lawalís Kita-Kita / Oro-Moro on Cap 1S (1981); originally from Nigeria, Lawal has long been a well known figure on the UK music scene, where he has collaborated with various rock musicians, but has also made several records in his own right (including an under-rated classic on Globestyle in the early Ď90s).  This single, which features two tracks from his first album Ajomase, illustrates well his experimental approach to percussion-based Nigerian traditions.  A final interesting item is Masokoloko's Fire Baby / Sabanoh International (Sabanoh International PFU1007) from 1978, a wonderful example of continuing African/Caribbean cultural interchange.  The A side is a version of Fire Fire, written by Sierra Leonian Ebenezer Calendar, who was heavily influenced by Calypso, the musicians are West African, and the treatment is reggae (so the B-side is a 'Version').  Were there really six previous releases on this label, and if so, what were they?  Were there other African single releases in the UK, not mentioned in this article?   Almost certainly, and all I can hope to do here is to start the ball rolling towards more comprehensive documentation.

In 1981, Island Records launched their African series with Bo Mbanda / Ma Coco (Island WIP 6734) by Pablo Lubadika Porthos (credited simply as Pablo), a soukous singer and guitarist from Zaire.  The promotional pack that was provided to press and media to support the launch, was quite clearly trying to promote 'African music' - as if it were some single distinctive style - as the next big thing, following the 1970s success of reggae (which Island had also led).  It never happened, although the exposure given to various African styles has created a substantial specialist interest that has continued to this day.


Most of the music I have heard from the records listed in this article is very worthwhile, and quite a lot of it is outstandingly good.  The bad news is that most of these records are extremely rare.  The vast majority of the Melodisc singles mentioned above, I have never so much as seen (never mind heard) in many years of collecting.  Melodisc did issue some of this on LPs; there is one by Ayinde Bakare, one by Tunde Nightingale and two Highlife samplers that I know of - there may be more.  These are perhaps not so rare as the singles, especially the samplers, and all four are excellent.  The only records that turn up regularly are those few that sold well when they were released (Tom Hark, Sunshine Day and Big Blow), although some others - such as the Dele Ojo on Giant and the Olowo Okere on Federal Eagle - seem to have been found recently in some quantity and I have seen them not infrequently in London collectors shops (I also have some spare copies of these, if anyone who reads this is interested in trade).  One good thing is that although many of these records are exceptionally rare, they do not appear to be particularly collectable, which means that they tend not to be very expensive when they do turn up.  A Melodisc single is usually no more than a third of the price of, say, one on Blue Beat, its sister label, and most others covered in this article would not tend to cost you very much at all - but you have to find them, first.

Ray Templeton - 19.5.99


This short glossary of musical styles is intended as a general guide only, and should not be taken as in any way definitive, or to be a fully accurate reflection of all usages of these terms.


Article MT037

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