Secure doors and cross-check: Ready for takeoff - African Business Magazine
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Secure doors and cross-check: Ready for takeoff

Secure doors and cross-check: Ready for takeoff

Samy Ben Redjeb is a man with a mission – to seek out and save Africa’s glorious musical legacy and re-present historical recordings to the world at large.

 His label, the German-based Analog Africa, has been responsible for the reissue of musical gems that have been rediscovered, digging through piles of vinyl records in shops and markets in Angola, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria. But he goes a little bit further than simply digitalising his vinyl finds. Instead, he digs deeper – tracing and interviewing surviving musicians, seeking their permission to reissue, as well as finding reminiscences and photographs of the era – in order to present a comprehensive and elegant repackaging of African musical history.

Afrobeat Airways 2
Return Flight to Ghana 1974–1983
Various Artists
Analog Africa
Cat: AACD074

Samy Ben Redjeb is a man with a mission – to seek out and save Africa’s glorious musical legacy and re-present historical recordings to the world at large. His label, the German-based Analog Africa, has been responsible for the reissue of musical gems that have been rediscovered, digging through piles of vinyl records in shops and markets in Angola, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Nigeria.

But he goes a little bit further than simply digitalising his vinyl finds. Instead, he digs deeper – tracing and interviewing surviving musicians, seeking their permission to reissue, as well as finding reminiscences and photographs of the era – in order to present a comprehensive and elegant repackaging of African musical history.

What better disc for African Business to review for October, designated the UK’s Black History Month?
The artists on this compilation of Ghanaian Highlife music may not be household names outside of the country and a small circle of African music enthusiasts, but today’s dance hall DJs could do worse that drop a few of these tracks into their repertoire and watch a new generation react to the pop music of three or four decades past.

Thirteen tracks in total – from stars with such exotic names as Wazo-Africa 76; Tony Servo & the Funky Afrosibi; and Complex Soundz – treat the listener to a feast from an era when Ghanian Highlife music ruled the nightclub dance-floors from Abidjan to Douala.

So influential was this vibrant musical style that its influence spread widely. For example, when Fela Kuti and his then band, the Koola Lobitos, visited Ghana in 1967 (a relatively safe sanctuary from the Biafran civil war that was raging in his homeland), he was to comment:

 “Their nightlife was swimming in Highlife music … the music carried me away completely.”

Greatly impressed, the Nigerian star went on incorporate the funk and soul elements of Highlife into the Afrobeat sound he was to develop, the style that would win fans across the continent and which is still considered a powerful element in world music in general.
Afrobeat has since had a profound impact as important contemporary producers and musicians credit Fela Kuti as an essential influence. Some Afrobeat influence can also be found in the music of Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon.

A central tenet of pan-Africanism
As the musician and musicologist Banning Eyre writes in his liner note introduction to the 44-page booklet that accompanies this remarkable disc: “A fusion of brass band marching songs, folksy palm wine guitar repertoire, and a ‘proto-Highlife’ percussion and vocal styles (osibisaaba, ashiko, konkoma), Highlife music fulfilled a central tenet of pan-African thinking.”

The CD takes us on a musical odyssey that spans Ghana from the ‘deep north’ sounds of the capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic Funk belt, Bolgatana, to the southern cities of Cape Coast and Accra. Along the way we have a transit ‘lay over’ in Kumasi, capital of Ashanti kingdom. It’s a full and very rewarding itinerary, subject to no delays and cancellations, (in case you have not realised this by now, the album has a distinct aviation theme, so appropriate to the Highlife moniker).

Today’s music industry is often accused of being more concerned with repackaging and reissuing past hits than seeking out and supporting new talent.

But aiming this critique at Ben Redjeb and Analog Africa would be unfair. For if Ben Redjeb had not saved these recordings from obscurity and possibly permanent loss, future generations might never know about these treasures of African music.

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Written by African Business Magazine

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