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Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980
Strut / !K7
Release Date: April 12, 2011
By Dave Cantor June 13, 2011

Are we so deep into excavating various African musics dating to the second half of the 20th century that there’s little left to suss out? With such a huge population crafting music that merges native elements and Western styled rock, soul, and R&B, there’s bound to be a mountain of tapes that trump anything on contemporary dancefloors. So, as an audience detached from the culture creating the music, North American and European fans are most likely only going to be recipients of the higher quality stuff.

If you like one of these repacked deals, you’re bound to like the other two-hundred similarly minded albums sure to be released this year. What’s amusing, though, is the American label system applying names to forms of music it/we/they don’t fully comprehend. Ebo Taylor, a Nigerian guitarist and band leader, now has a compilation entitled Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980. But the “highlife” here doesn’t sound too much like Solomon Ilori’s African High Life (Blue Note, 1963). And neither does it sound like Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab.

Even the personal histories of all these players becomes fuzzy. Talent’s assessed, studies take place out of whatever country the player’s from – usually folks wind up in New York or London for a bit – and there’s an eventual return to the homeland to dispense a cultivated musicality. Ebo Taylor’s narrative is basically that. He even did time in a classroom with Fela Kuti. Pretty cool, right? Sprawled over the two album’s worth of music constituting Life Stories is proof of the guy’s acumen.

Differentiating Taylor’s compendium from others is the disc culling work the guitarist put in with a number of different groups, occasionally providing for a wildly varied listen. When he’s in the right company, however, it all works out. With Uhuru-Yenzu, Taylor goes in on “What is Life?” It hues towards the Fela side of things and finds success relatively easily. The chorus of woodwinds adds a nice touch, making it all seem like a smooth vocalist is set to enter. Instead, some group-grunted choruses espouse heavy thinking as the groove works towards its natural end. While performing with Super Sounds Namba on “Yes, Indeed,” Taylor ends up accompanying an effort weighted down by some ill advised synthesizer sounds. The song’s success or failure isn’t predicated on the proper assimilation of then-new technologies, though. It’s just that if you happen to enjoy that cheeseball keyboard sound, you might not like afro-funk. And vice versa. Hopefully, this doesn’t suggest the as-of-yet-unmined collective sounds from Nigera, Senegal, or other nations have hit bottom. Everyone’s afforded a few off days. So, Strut issuing Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 is gonna work for anyone already engaged with exploring these sounds. Taylor’s not a bad place to start either. Maybe his music’ll even find its way onto a soundtrack to one of Bill Murray’s films.

Visit: Ebo Taylor | Strut
Purchase: Insound | eMusic