The U.K.'s Strut label is well-known among music fiends for its fine compilations, unusual yet savvy collaborations, and provocative new releases. After all, this is the label that delivered the first recordings by Mulatu Astatke and Dennis Coffey in decades, paired Amp Fiddler with Sly & Robbie, and Tony Allen with Jimi Tenor. In addition, they have released countless collections of rare disco, funk, Afrobeat, African pop, and steamy reggae from the catacombs of history. Among the label's accomplishments are the Nigeria 70 comps that began release in 2001; they are chock-full of stunning cross-pollinations of funk, jazz, rock, soul, and traditional African musics.
Nigeria 70: No Wahala (Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987) is the fourth volume in the series and the first in more than eight years. It is one of the more provocative and satisfying entries in the collection. Compiled by Duncan Brooker with copious notes and interviews by Quinton Scott, this set collects 12 fine specimens of West African groove music, seamlessly sequenced. Opener "Oniu Suru" by Idowu Odeyemi is an excellent example. Originally issued on LP by EMI Nigeria in 1987, it is a late high life masterpiece, with a staccato horn section engaged in interplay and counterpoint with layers of electric guitars and organic percussion, while Odeyemi's sweet vocals range inside rhythm and melody to meld with some of the foremost instrumentalists on the scene. Felix Ngasia & the Survivals' "Black Precious Color" is stellar Cameroonian Afro-disco. As synths, guitars, and bubbling bassline entwine like snakes in a basket under the airy, hypnotic vocals of Ngasia, the layered percussion accents and fills the margins; the various instrumental solos drive the tune incessantly. Sina Bakare's "Africa" is a swaggering juju tune that crisscrosses rock and funk with a traditional melody. From the late 1970s, Don Bruce & the Angels deliver "Kinuye," a killer jam that intersects 12-bar blues, funk, and high life. The rumbling hand drums and pointed guitar solos are only kept in check by the static, deep pocket bassline that exhorts the listener to move, as vocals sway above the mix and a tenor saxophone drops a "Young Americans"-esque solo break. While Rogana Ottah & His Black Heroes kick off "Psychedelic Shoes" with an ominous dose of organ and drum funk, the tune quickly shifts into an entrancing meld of atmospheric juju and Afrobeat. "Mundiya Loju," by M.A. Jaiyesimi & His Crescent Bros., closes the set with a lovely call-and-response psych juju tune from the mid-'70s with freaky, trippy, heavily reverbed guitars, pointillistic bass, and bubbling, rolling hand drums and amplified kalimbas. Like its predecessors, No Wahala is an essential addition to any collection of continental African music in general and Nigerian music in particular. The music here is infectious in its joy and pain; its virtuoso performances slip the handcuffs of history and even legend to enter the 21st century as brave, exciting, and revelatory yet again.