Looking to uncover some new tunes? Here's our resident music expert Matt Dyson's new monthly column, to help you explore the latest from the left-field.
What is The Modern Music Masterclass? It’s a journey – one in which we’ll help you unearth the gems in the digital record shop that is Spotify. Each month Vodafone’s resident music expert Matt Dyson will dive into a genre and pick out three emerging, new or upcoming groups that you’ve probably never heard of, but should have. This month? It’s time to take a journey to the varied and amazing world of the African music scene…
This masterclass is all about Africa, and when I mentioned that I may cover Nigerian funk to a friend and he thought I was joking. After all, it’s easy to dismiss music from another continent that doesn’t rigidly sit within the confines of a western rock ’n’ roll timeline, while terrible late-career albums by Sting and Peter Gabriel have done nothing to dispel the myth that there’s probably nothing worth a listen.
Yet, go beyond this and you’ll find that not only is Africa the birthplace of music, but it’s also been the centre of some of the most complex, challenging and mind-blowing groups and movements you’re ever likely to hear. Here are three to get you started…
Most bands, when asked how they formed, might mumble something about meeting at a party and sharing a love of Bowie. The Funkees, on the other hand, formed out of an army band in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war, hell-bent of producing insanely upbeat music to counter the jet-black darkness of the conflict.
In 2012, Soundway Records reissued a compilation, appropriately titled ‘Dancing Time’, which gives you a taster of some of the heaviest, defiant, ‘70s funk you’re ever likely to hear. It seeps under your skin like 100% humidity and will have you sweating out pure joy as you find yourself unable to stop dancing.
Dancing Time, the Best of Eastern Nigeria’s Afro Rock Exponents 1973-77 (Soundway Records) by The Funkees
This is properly nuts. Imagine a cargo ship in 1968 setting sail from Baltimore, rammed to the hilt with Moogs, synths and cutting edge electro gadgets. Imagine it was heading to Rio De Janeiro to an Exhibition. So far, so plausible, right? But now imagine that instead, it ended up as a ghost ship, stranded on the tiny island of Cape Verde (then a Portuguese colony) 350 miles off the coast of Africa.
After much head-scratching, imagine that the local population discovered all of the onboard instruments and started playing them, thus setting off an electro revolution born out of their traditional folk music. Well, that’s what happened. And this compilation is full of the futuristic, unique and magical genius that resulted from this happy accident.
Space Echo (The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed) by Various Artists
If you heard a few songs from this compilation on the radio today you might assume it was recorded in Croydon in 1979. And I suppose that’s the point, as National Wake, a multiracial punk band, were all about highlighting how struggles are universal. Formed after the 1976 Soweto Uprising, they bravely performed under the threat of Apartheid and the constant harassment of the police.
The result is music which is every bit as incendiary as the Damned or the ‘Pistols – and with all the same ground-breaking crossover sounds of punk and Ska as the Clash or Specials. But mixed into all of this are distinctly local flourishes of polyrhythms and experimentation with traditional instruments. There’s even a drum solo on some of these tracks – something which would have got your drum kit thrown out of the window in London at the time.
Walk in Africa 1979-81 by National Wake