Saturday, December 20, 2008
VARIOUS ARTISTS - Highlife Time (Vampisoul)
A primer of some of the greatest of ’60s and ’70s highlife — the electrifying dance sound of Nigeria and Ghana — in a high quality, very personal selection by long time collector, compiler and DJ John Armstrong. It’s personal in that Armstrong has not resorted to objectively spreading the exposure amongst artists when making his pick of the output from the legendary Premier Studios in Nigeria’s capital Lagos, the major source for this gritty, enduringly popular guitar-based pop, and home of some of the greatest purveyors of the style. Five of the twenty tracks, then, are deservedly awarded to Rex Lawson’s mellifluous mix of ringing rhumba guitar lines, jazzy horn breaks and lyrics that mix pidgin English with the local languages, a blend that is still highly influential locally and of huge crossover appeal to fans of the Western and pan-African sounds that infuse his music. The influence of the popular, sax-playing ‘Evil Genius of Highlife’ (not a bit of it! This is tender, laid-back, seductive stuff) Dr Victor Olaiya pervades the collection as well, in his own band-leader guise (and alongside the immortal plangent tones of the Highlife King E T Mensah on the opener) and through the soulful, foot-tapping “ekassa” strain of highlife with which genius multi-instrumentalist and former Olaiya guitarist Sir Victor Uwaifo took the genre off into a whole, rhytm and blues based direction. But whether it be these famous band-leaders and musicians with their jazz-infused big band dance music and vivid, shuffling guitar rhythms, or the later, arguably more obscure artists such as funketeers Opotopo and the lead in to a possible Volume Two through the ’80s zouk track by Akana Man that closes the collection, this is heady, vibrant music that will light up any open-minded party crowd.