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Congo Funk! - Sound Madness From The Shores Of The Mighty Congo River (Kinshasa/Brazzaville 1969 - 1982)
Analogue Africa

Ghana Special 2- Electronic Highlife & Afro Sounds In The Diaspora- 1980-93
Review by Bruce Miller

Labels Analog Africa and Soundway have done some of the most exhaustive work in reissuing essential music from sub-Saharan Africa’s 1970s golden age, radically expanding western heads’ knowledge of how prolific and groundbreaking the music was. Also, because both labels, in their own way, have either moved beyond reissues of music from this era or the continent itself only to return to it for these two recent releases, it makes sense to review them together.

The last few years have seen Analog Africa label owner Samy Redjeb expand his releases deep into Afro-Brazil, coastal Colombia and the jungles of Peru as he makes connections from Africa to its South American diaspora. From time to time, however, he’s circled back to Africa for updates on vintage releases from Ghana, Cameroun, or Cote d’Ivoire.

cd cover Congo Funk! connects to his earlier Verkys collection, at least in terms of region. Yet, half of the tracks on this record were actually scored in the vaults of Benin-based record label Aux Ecoutes; those discoveries were the catalyst for Redjeb’s realization of how many seriously heavy grooves both Kinshasa (in the DRC) and Brazzaville (over the river in the Republic of Congo) offered up. Because Congolese rhumba set the entire continent on fire in the mid twentieth century, and because those tracks have long been available in the west, it seems Redjeb has now exposed the funk hidden beneath the surface. Well documented entities from the mid-20th century such as Tabu Ley, OK Jazz, and Les Bantous de la Capitale are here, but the emphasis on harder grooves places them in a different context.


Admittedly, Soul Jazz records has already delved into the funkier side of Congolese music with their Congo Revolution collection; perhaps the most devastating track here, OK Jazz’s brutal slice of percolating heaviness, “Kiwita Kumunani” was on that collection. Yet, Congo Funk! is a much deeper dive, including not only straight-up James Brown-inspired grooves, but the more infectious, club floor-filling aspects of rhumba, thanks to tracks by Zaiko Langa Langa and Orchestre Celi Bitshou.

And as ever, the booklet it a wealth of vintage photos, information on the artists and labels, as well as a great narrative that tells the story of how all this music came to be part of Redjeb’s collection in the first place.


cd cover In terms of moving beyond the confines of 70s-era African grooves, Miles Cleret’s Soundway label has branched out over the years into everything from Nigerian reggae from the late 80s to Dutch tape loop experimentation as well as contemporary Balearic dreaminess, New Zealand-based house bangers, and experimental pop from South Africa. Because the earliest releases on Soundway pre-date Analog Africa by a few years, Cleret’s work served to offer up some of the initial DJ-curated, groundbreaking collections of vintage 70s funk from Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin. It makes sense then that the label would return to Ghana for an update, this time from the post-highlife and funk years. The music here, from artists such as Abdul Raheem, Andy Vans, Bessa Simons and others radiates with a slick, disco-fied 80s sheen that shows Africa continued to be at the cutting edge of dance music, though westerners checking out sounds coming from Chicago, Detroit, or Berlin might not have had any idea.


Here, fat, gurgling synth-based dance tracks such as Charles Amoah’s “Fre Me (Call Me)” bubble along on rhythms that eschew the more complex local syncopations of the previous decade, replacing them with more 4-on-the-floor hits that no doubt moved bodies. Even musicians such as Ernest Honny and Gyedu Blay Ambolley, who’d had major hands in Ghana’s innovations and whose music has been included on both Soundway and Analog Africa collections previously, find their way effortlessly into the new styles. Honny’s “New Dance” allows his keyboard work to shine over a futuristic, robotic jerk that still sounds radical in 2024. Ambolley’s foray into syrupy, bass-driven slinkiness is effortless, as his track “Apple” demonstrates.

The collection’s story, featuring information on the artists and labels, is captured in a booklet that rivals AA’s comprehensive information as well. Ultimately, Ghana Special 2- Electronic Highlife & Afro Sounds In The Diaspora- 1980-93 circles back to many of the artists Soundway has featured in the past, showing them in an atmosphere that connects them to the more contemporary sounds the label has specialized in these last few years.

Further reading:
Congotronics International - Where's the One?
V.A. - Essiebons Special 1973 - 1984 Ghana Music Power House
Nok Cultural Ensemble - Njhyi

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