Wednesday, June 16, 2010
ROW: Prince Niko Mbarga - "Aki Special" (Rounder)
Evincing cherry-picked elements of the stylistic diaspora that characterized Nigerian music in the Seventies, this influential album was also one of the most popular of its day. “Sweet Mother” was a certified hit and considered by many both within his native country and without as Africa’s unofficial anthem. Mbarga devised a personal variant on Congolese guitar playing and grafted it to Highlife polyrhythms to create an infectious and dance-friendly sound. The hybrid sits apart from many of its contemporaries by the comparatively modest instrumentation. Nico plays shimmering lead with Jean Chachua on rhythm guitar and the enigmatic Morris on bass. Drummer Ashagashu joins conguero Franco Okolo to complete the core band operating on under the colorful moniker Rocafil Jazz. Seven songs glide by in just over an hour, regularly belying their lengths with engaging cyclical riffs and laconic lyrics spun largely from traditional proverbs and topic themes like “Free Education in Nigeria”. The weave of amplified strings is clean and consistently scintillating with insistent but unobtrusive beats augmenting a flexible percolating groove. This reliably satisfying set is a regular in my summer rotation.