Sonntag, 21. Juni 2009

African Weeks on Cosmic Rock: N.E.P.A.

If you are talking about African music you have to talk about afrobeat. Invented by Fela Kuti - charismatic Nigerian bandleader, lauded for his muscial creativity & political achievements, criticized for his misoginysm and homophobia -, afrobeat is a mixture of American funk & jazz with traditional African elements.

My favorite piece of afrobeat is Tony Allen's 1985 ep "N.E.P.A.". If you are following this blog and like the kind of music I am writing about, I am sure you will love this. Tony Allen was Fela Kuti's drummer and much of the beat in afrobeat is due to him. "N.E.P.A." is an acronym for "Nigerian Electrical Power Authority", the official Nigerian electrical supplier. Since that agency is notorious for its unreliability and somewhat erratic services, Allen flipped the meaning to "Never Expect Power Always". And of course, even if you don't know that background, it can still be understood as a political statement.

While Fela Kuti's songs can be 20 minute epics, Allen cut the fat and imposed a rigid framework on his music. He tightened up the songs' overflowing quality, reduced the jazzy improvisations and turned them into repetitive patterns that are very reminiscent of modern dance music. The sound is also quite modern: hard hitting drums and a fat, punchy bassline provide the backdrop, while occasional brass stabs slice through the mix. The African polyrhythm is still audible, but it has transformed into a real beat: kick and snare now assume a much bigger role than in traditional afrobeat where they were equal to all other percussion instruments.

The ep has two songs and their respective dub versions. There is one bonus track that wasn't featured on the original release but on the 2002 CD reissue which has also been out of print for some years now.

1. N.E.P.A. (Never Expect Power Always)
2. N.E.P.A. Dance Dub
3. When One Road Close (Another One Go Open)
4. When One Road Close Dance Dub
5. Olokun


Last but not least, some shameless self-promotion: I stole was inspired by the beat of "When One Road Close" for one of my own songs, the mystic "Ruwenzori (Mountains of the Moon)". You may decide for yourself if I succeeded in creating that deep spiritual vibe I was aiming at:

DOWNLOAD Ruwenzori

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