Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


African Records Review

By Kwabena Asamoah

Highlife time with the Flamingos

THE FLAMINGOS OF GHANA: 'It's Time For Highlife' (MAKOSSA INT. M2407) (American Import) 'Bibiara Wo Ne Mbere' 'Bidear Bra' 'Time For Highlife' / 'Money Na Evil' 'Little Dove' 'Afi Kome'

Recorded during their 25-cities tour in America, this debut international album by the Flamingos is yet another classic example of the height of dilemma which the African musician has faced throughout the years. Some of the tracks sound experimental to the extent that the group attempts to sound non-Ghanaian, I believe, just to test the international market.

One word about the timing of the album. It marks the watershed between the era of experimental music and that of African music take-off on the international market. I dare say their next album would be entirely highlife.

There is a point of confusion which is beyond my comprehension: the other name of the group is supposed to be 'Sweet Talks'; what is clear is that it is not the 'Sweet Talks' which we all know.

Too many cooks spoil the broth but 'Money Na Evil' is one of the smoothest hi-life tracks I have heard for years since the days of Uhuru Dance 'band (Ghana). Tommy Darling (one of the greatest guitarists in Ghana), playing a question-and-answer with the horns section, traces a hi-life sound that will certainly send listeners into a dream world of yesterday when there were great big bands in Ghana.

The horns do not sound ear-piercing but are sufficiently mellow and rewarding. Pay a little attention to Duke Johnson's alto sax solo and you're likely to take refuge in it. The lyrics sung in pidgin English is interesting:
'because of money man de struggle,
Because of woman man de tire,
Money! because of you man de reach Liberia,
Sierra Leone, Nigeria, London...
If I get you I go enjoy you well well'.
Though the ending of the track was not well faded (a technical failure rather than musical) the sound represents an excellent smoother.

The funkish touch in 'Little Dove' and 'Midear Bra' is not likely to please purists except probably the lyrics. The tail end of 'Bibiara Wo Ne Mbere' suffers similar disease though the track is on the right hi-life track.

The group's conversion to Uhuru sounds continues in 'Time For Highlife' which was originally played by Uhuru (with Willie Cheetham on vocals). Beginning with a muddle of cock crow, singing and congas the group settles down with a classic hi-life which will bring back memories of the past. Even the short horns arrange- ments fitted at the beginning cannot escape Uhuruism(though no longer in existence). Once again Duke Johnson stamps his good alto sax solo on a track which already invites you to 'shake your body' and 'have a good time tonight'.

In 'Afi Kome' the Flamingos go through many familiar tunes like 'Royal Mail' and 'Rekpete' (which does not succeed as much as the original Hedzoleh Sounds one). Comparisons are not always useful in music because the Flamingos sound different even if they are interpreting old familiar tunes.

On balance, the album offers enter- tainment to hi-life fans in spite of the funkish sneak in a few of the tracks. Try it all.

FLAMINGOS of Ghana It's Time for Highlife

FESO TROMBONE: 'Freedom Train' (AFRICAGRAM A DRY 4) Freedom Train' 'Give & Take' / 'Beautiful World' 'Beginning Of The End' 'Long Way To Go'

This album is the fourth release by Africagram (a division of Cherry Red Records) which is also one of the new labels exploring African music.

What is likely to intrigue most listeners is the use of trombone as an instrument in a contemporary pop scene which is familiar with other musical instruments. Feso's music sounds like someone who has had jazz influences but succeeds in exploiting his African roots and originality. There is a combination of African progression and what sounds like the Latin samba in some of the tracks such as 'Freedom Train'.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti is not the only Nigerian musician who introduces politics into music. Feso Olawaiye (also from Nigeria) too dedicates his album to some world leaders (Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, J F Kennedy, Patrice Lumumba) and G K Olawaiye (a father or a relation).

Sounding like Santana, the first track Freedom Train - employs trombone, congas and bongos to carry through the message of 'waiting for a long long time'.

Feso has a political message of hope for the oppressed people of South Africa in 'Give & Take' - another US TOUR track in which Felly Eloko picks up beautiful guitar solos. The track is one of the progressive tracks on the album, exploring jazz influences and African rhythms to reach an inspiring level. Feso's voice has a message as well: the world is give and take. He does not understand why the whites have gone to dispossess the blacks in South Africa of everything. The quality of the lyrics and tempo cling on to your mind after a few more spins on the turntable.

Feso cannot boast of any extraordinary voice but he manages to draw you closer in 'Beautiful World' and indeed throughout the album to his messages and unique music. The trombone solos are involved and the drums busy and pedantic.

The versatility of Feso is exemplified in 'Beginning Of The End'. Striking a few notes on the piano Feso quickly picks up his trombone to carve out a mid-tempo which is likely to please.

'Long Way To Go' sounds like a studio afterthought for its short duration and single-handedness of Feso on percussion, piano and trombone. Unless the trombone solo carries special African meaning the track has jazzy traces that would appeal to listeners who lay emphasis on instruments.

On balance, 'Freedom Train' is an example of the infinite nature of African music which is as vast as the continent itself. The mere use of trombone- an instrument seldom played these days - presents an attraction worth preserving. The marriage between Africa, Latin and modern jazz is also there.

talking drums 1984-05-28 Cameroon executions - Buhari - Ghana's PDC-WDCs