Francis Bebey - African Electronic Music

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Francis Bebey
African Electronic Music 1975-82
Born Bad

To a musician such as Cameroun’s Francis Bebey, who managed to get a hold of a synthesizer in the 1970s, and who, like many other African players at the time, sought to break some boundaries, there was never any question as to whether or not to incorporate his region’s musical traditions. Cameroun’s rich Makossa grooves permeate this collection, drawn largely from his Ozileka releases, and focusing on his more keyboard driven excursions. There are hints here of everything from Sly Stone’s radical, early 70s drum machine experiments to layers of home studio semi-acoustic melodies not unlike what Shuggie Otis did with 1974’s “Inspiration Information.” There are also connections to Nigeria’s William Onyeabor, who layered cheap synthesized funk under socially conscious, simplistic lyrics. So, like rock and roll from mid-70s Zambia, to the Gambia’s Guelewar, who mixed Mbalax rhythms with western keyboards around the same time, Bebey’s music is definitely experimental. And this collection is phenomenal.

From the (seemingly) looped acoustic guitar figures that underpin synth workouts such as “Super Jungle” or “Tiers Monde” to the morose keyboard and drum machine near-balladry of “Pygmy Love Song,” this is singular music, in the wide world of African 70s-era pop. It’s also at once addictive and expansive. Also, while it sounds clearly like the work of someone in a home studio, it feels groundbreaking and fully formed in a way that much of Rikki Ililonga’s home recordings from this era (recently re-issued by Now Again) don't. There’s simply something forever radical about the swaths of keyboard and drum machine slathered all over “Savanah Georgia (sic).”

Bebey’s work was, and still is visionary, and he was no doubt aware that he was expanding the music. Just listen to his sadly out of print LP on Original Music, Akwaaba, where he takes the sansa and marries it to electric bass lines and discomforting, guttural vocal drones. On this collection, when Bebey raps endlessly in French over a percussive keyboard line, he’s drawing straight from his culture’s past, all the while hijacking the language of the colonizers and pushing his own developments to their edges. But you don’t need to hear any of that to realize this is a super collection, one that will hopefully not get buried in the heap of vintage African reissues aimed straight at Westerners. - Bruce Miller

Further reading: a bio of the artist

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