Monday, December 17, 2018

Ofege's Try and Love

I had no idea what to expect when the needle hit the groove. Several moments later, I was still unsure of what I was hearing. Try and Love from Ofege sounded like a lot of the African pop and rock I used to listen to back in my college days--I loved both King Sunny Ade and Mick Fleetwood's The Visitor. I'm also in love with Ethiopiques, that mid-60s collection of Ethiopian jazz that was featured so prominently in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. The sound, the beat and even the feel of the studio reminds me of all those recordings and more, but the music itself, well, it's really different. It's almost otherworldly.

Ofege was a funk-pop-rock group "formed in the early 1970s by a bunch a teenagers at the St. Gregory's in Lagos Nigeria," according to the obi. Ofege went on to be one of the most celebrated pop groups in Nigeria's history, and that's probably because they sounded so different from everyone else in Africa. That doesn't mean you haven't heard the components of their sound before, you just haven't heard this blend before. The group was inspired by psychedelic rock, especially the guitar-driven music played by Santana, Jimmy Page and of course Hendrix, but the scorching solos here are also informed by African artists such as The Funkees, Ofo the Black Company and BLO. Try and Love was Ofege's 1973 debut, and it was released while most of the members were still in high school. When you listen to this album, that last comment is probably the most amazing since this is such a confident and audacious album.

As I've mentioned, Ofege sounds alien but in all the right ways. You've heard the both the fuzzy distorted electric guitars from the West, and the twangy, distant soul/funk/R&B guitars of West Africa, but together they create a sound that makes you smile because, well, because it rocks pretty hard. Melvin Ukachi, the lead vocalist and lyricist, sings mostly in English, and his light tone reveals his young age but in an innocent yet accomplished way that reminds me of Jackson 5 era MJ. The drumming, from M-lke Meme, is what squares the music off into its African origins--even when he backs into a standard pop-rock beat, the complex polyrhythms bleed through and give the songs an extra ounce of pure adrenaline.

This all sounds charming and interesting, which it is. All of these influences hit you at once, and while your brain is busy trying to categorize everything, your feet are tapping and your head is bobbing. Music with a story this fascinating can only come from one place--Light in the Attic Records. If LITA excels in just one thing, it's capturing those windows in time, that feeling like you're hearing a lost piece of history that was mummified and restored to its former luster. It's the kind of recording where you think about the world in which it was recorded, and how different it is from now.

I'm a little bummed--just a few days before I listened to Try and Love the first time, I had already submitted my Top 20 list to several publications. I would have included this near the top, perhaps right next to that Lee Hazlewood surf-rock album, which was also released and curated by LITA. Highly recommended.

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