Album Review

Johnson, Bola – “Man No Die” – [Vampi Soul]

Art Crimes   4/25/2012   12-inch, International

While Fela was refining politically-charged Afrobeat messages to the people and King Sunny was building a guitar army to play hypnotic grooves with his African Beats, Bola Johnson was happy to just play the fool with his grab bag of highlife, funk, calypso, proto-rap, vocal chants, and other styles — all delivered with high spirits and concise arrangements (most tracks about 5 minutes). Sung in a variety of African tribal languages plus English, these songs address decidedly non-political issues like relationships, dancing, and traffic safety (check out the last song, a public service announcement delivered in a calypso wrapper). The horn-driven backing band has much more of a Western flavor than the Nigerian acts I mentioned above, and as you can see by the cover, with Johnson flanked by two instrument-wielding cuties while he dons his Miles Davis shades, this is not terribly serious stuff. But Johnson does mine some legitimate funk quarries here, with wah-wah deployed as needed, and he’s not embarrassed to roll with classic highlife rhythms as well. PROGRAMMING: All tracks include vocals although some have extended intros. ((( crimes )))

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