Counter Action: ‘Ajomase’ ‘A’ Grade Afrobeat (With A Twist) From Gaspar Lawal
Each week our resident ‘man of mystery’ (alright he works in a record shop) chooses to shine his vinyl shaped spotlight on a dimly lit corner of that wonderful world of ‘7”s, 12”s, LPs etc. that we call, err, records. The records chosen needn’t cost an arm and a leg, be especially rare, or even be so obscure that you out there in ‘normal land’ are like never-ever-ever going to find one – in fact, they don’t have to be good at all (although that does help). No, our record shop employee has a far more noble aim – namely to celebrate the seldom-celebrated, to tell the story of a record with a story to tell – no genre shall go unturned, after all, a tune, is a tune, is a tune…..
This editions vinyl shaped pearl in the shell is this wonky slice of vintage Afrobeat with a twist from Gaspar Lawal….
Question: What links the Rolling Stones, Ginger Baker, Funkadelic and Vivian Stanshall (apart from industrial strength pharmaceuticals and alcohol that is)? Answer: Gaspar Lawal, a percussionist and band leader born in Nigeria in 1948 that’s what!
Lawal moved to the U.K. in the mid-‘60s and such were his musical chops he quickly found himself sharing a stage and sometimes recording studio with, amongst others; Ginger Baker’s Airforce, Stephen Stills, The Stones, Funkadelic and even Babs Streisand – yikes, how did she get in there!
After a brief spell playing with London based rockers ‘Clancy’, and also a short return hop to Nigeria, he formed his own band Afriki Sound (geddit?) who started plying their ‘freaky’ trade almost immediately with an inspired mash-up of equal parts West African Roots, experimental rock and jazz – central to Lawal’s musical philosophy was the idea that music would benefit from cross-pollination, an audio melting pot if you will?…..
Afriki would release two albums, both on Lawal’s own Cap imprint, ‘Ajomase’, (Yoruba for ‘we all have to do it together)’, released in 1980, was the first album to drop the band moniker and what a record it is! Let’s jump straight in at the deep end with the dancefloor nugget that is ‘Kita Kita’ (an ’83 Wag Club fave apparently), it’s an unusual hybrid – which starts off as a pleasantly diverting ‘world-esque’ number which, before you know it (well the 1:54 mark actually), goes right off-road with dubbed out cosmic vocals, high-life guitar and thumb nail piano! Mmmm NICE!
Dubby Afrobeat dancefloor excursions (albeit at a slower tempo) continue with Awon Ojise Oluwa, 6 minutes plus of chicken scratch guitar, call and response vocals, jazz inflections and some serious guitar action towards the climax – sounds not unlike the African equivalent of Cedric Brookes jazz and reggae stylings.
It’s not all aimed at the dancefloor though, check the downbeat ‘Oromoro’, more call and response vocals but this time round with poly-rhythmic drums giving it a Eno/Byrne ‘Bush of Ghosts’ vibe (except they got it from here, errr, Africa that is) – and in a neat musical twist, the birdsong that weaves in and out would doubtless get Mr Eno’s approval too – Nice touch all round!
What happened next?
By the mid-‘80s Lawal was a founder member of Britain’s Black Music Association, with a stated aim of gaining greater exposure (and better working conditions) for black musicians. There were two subsequent long players; ‘Abisunni’ from 1985 and the trad/percussion workout that is 1990s ‘Kadara’…..after that the trail goes cold…