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Published: 2005/03/05
by Jesse Jarnow

Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky, Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa (World Psychedelic Classics, v. 3) – various artists

Luaka Bop

There are many things I wanna thank David Byrne for: the entire Talking Heads' catalogue, True Stories, a lot of wonderful photographs, the Big Suit, and just generally being David Byrne. But today, I’d like to specifically thank him for Luaka Bop Records and their World Psychedelic Classics series, which took a groovy shimmy forward with the release of its third installment, Love’s A Real Thing: the Funky, Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa. I’d like to thank him because this shit is like sonic Adderol. Almost every time I put it on, I start working, and an hour later I realize that I’ve just plugged along and done whatever I needed to do — cleaned my room, replied to email, edited a story, did the dishes — without a single distraction. It’s bloody remarkable.

The compilation — drawn from myriad out-of-print early '70s singles, EPs, LPs, and movie soundtracks — is post-James Brown/pre-Fela Kuti transatlantic mutation at its best. Fuzz boxes, wah-wah pedals, overdriven organs, and squonking saxophones meld with the polyrhythmic DNA of deep African grooves into exactly what the disc's evocative title promises. Moussa Doumbia's "Keleya" rides jazzy Hammond flourishes, guitar stabs, and wordless Godfather of Soul vocal eruptions over complex Malinese rhythms, and decidedly non-English call-and-response chants. The fact that I understand so few of the lyrics certainly adds to the music's allure, as does the sneaking suspicion that whatever gear was making the hyper-saturated recordings was probably on the verge of implosion.

Even within the scope of this most obscure of genres, there is a wide range of music, from the condensed single-length R & B of the Super Eagles' "Love's A Real Thing," to the sonically rich marimba of soundtracker Manu Dibango's "Ceddo End Title" to the fluttering guitar work-out of Sorry Bamba's "Porry" to the exploding Hendrixisms of Ofo and the Black Company's positively fucking fierce "Allah Wakbarr." The latter, a '72 single on Decca, deserves a spot in everybody's iTunes. (Yes, you). This ain’t the smooth, silky sounds of Orchestra Baobob, and if Paul Simon showed up, his pleasant little ditties (and some of them are quite pleasant) would likely get the proverbial spear through the metaphorical skull. These guys rock.

The selection is fab, the pacing works out, and Ronnie Graham's liner notes contextualize it all. I dunno much about West African psychedelic music, but I'd be happily surprised to discover stuff better than this. But this'll do me for now. So, thanks, David (can I call you David?). This product that you have offered for sale via your outlet in the world marketplace has quantifiably improved my life. It makes me smile to know that some force is looking out for my best interests.

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