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Tony Hillier

The long departed kings of 1960s-70s funk and afrobeat, James Brown and Fela Kuti, and leading political and environmental activists Steve Biko and Ken Saro-Wiwa are among those brought back to life in Agberos International.

For different reasons, all of the above have made a profound impact on London-born, German-raised Nigerian producer/musician Adegoke Odukoya and his 13-piece ensemble BANTU. The Lagos-based band that carries the same moniker as Biko’s given name plays music inspired by Brown and Kuti in songs that honour campaigners who paid the ultimate price for their activism.

BANTU expresses similar sociopolitical sentiments as it rails against past and present government corruption and injustices in Nigeria and across Africa. Its diatribes come dressed in an indubitably danceable cloak that doffs a cap to Nigeria and America’s funk-fuelled heritage, while strutting to the sound of contemporary street music.

BANTU’s fifth album sashays between the satirical and political without missing a beat — from highlife to hip-hop, from R & B to rap, from afrobeat to American soul. The band’s music resounds with riveting rhythms of classic Brown and Kuti as brass players, guitarists, keyboardists and singers weave hypnotic patterns above pulsating beds and metronomic beats. Niger Delta Blues, which simultaneously acknowledges Saro-Wiwa and the so-called Ogoni Nine g ...

The long departed kings of 1960s-70s funk and afrobeat, James Brown and Fela Kuti, and leading political and environmental activists Steve Biko and Ken Saro-Wiwa are among those brought back to life in Agberos International.

For different reasons, all of the above have made a profound impact on London-born, German-raised Nigerian producer/musician Adegoke Odukoya and his 13-piece ensemble BANTU. The Lagos-based band that carries the same moniker as Biko’s given name plays music inspired by Brown and Kuti in songs that honour campaigners who paid the ultimate price for their activism.

BANTU expresses similar sociopolitical sentiments as it rails against past and present government corruption and injustices in Nigeria and across Africa. Its diatribes come dressed in an indubitably danceable cloak that doffs a cap to Nigeria and America’s funk-fuelled heritage, while strutting to the sound of contemporary street music.

BANTU’s fifth album sashays between the satirical and political without missing a beat — from highlife to hip-hop, from R & B to rap, from afrobeat to American soul. The band’s music resounds with riveting rhythms of classic Brown and Kuti as brass players, guitarists, keyboardists and singers weave hypnotic patterns above pulsating beds and metronomic beats. Niger Delta Blues, which simultaneously acknowledges Saro-Wiwa and the so-called Ogoni Nine group of environmental activists and ongoing oil issues, is driven by the distinctive drumming of Kuti’s right-hand man Tony Allen, while moving from Yoruba call-and-response into a spoken-word section backed by riffing afrobeat guitars and honking horns.

Up-front rap and reggae backbeat combine with a sumptuous choral element to roll-call heroes such as Biko and Ambroise Boimbo and Africans in exile in Ile, the big production number that brings Agberos International to a fitting climax.

Set opener Afropunk has an even harder edge that hints at Afro-American heavy hitters Living Color and Fishbone while referencing black liberationist legends Paul Robeson and boxer Jack Johnson. Anything for the Boys addresses Nigeria’s ongoing infrastructure and economic woes via a punchy modern beat, a mid-track rap and some pointy-end jazz.

South African township jive mixed with Ghanaian highlife and afrobeat forms a carnivalesque backdrop to Lagos Barbie, which mildly criticises Nigerian women who compromise their African beauty by wearing too much bling. American big band soul groove a la Brown is a defining influence in Oni Temi, in which spoken word artist Wana Wana trades lines with resident singers on the subject of infatuation. More choral oriented, Ma Ko Bami takes a playful look at courting in Nigeria.

Imbued with gentle R & B, Kaa Maa Dup celebrates life and the human spirit’s capacity to overcome adversity.

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