Though I only recently finally got hip to a good slice of reggae—an orientation that began, as I've mentioned elsewhere, after catching hold of The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra's eponymous CD—I can thank Ginger Baker for long ago cultivating an attraction to African rhythms through his Air Force supergroup in the 70s after Cream broke up. This led me to such ensembles as Osibisa and, much later, the incomparable Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, mesmerizing from the moment first heard on Paul Simon's Graceland (but ya really hafta see 'em live, as in their Montreux DVD). Recently, Habib Koite & Eric Bibbs Brothers in Bamako (here) and Tarrus Riley's Mecoustic (here) have gone far to reinforce the attraction, and now Bongos Ikwue & Double X have worked up a disc of African-based transnational rhythms and melodies that engross and engage.
Ikwue's well-known in his homeland Nigeria and has, as far as I've been able to discern, at least 11 discs to his credit prior to Wulu Wulu, his debut in the U.S. At 70, the guy has no intention of giving up music…and is a bit of an outspoken free soul, having recently publicly expressed the opinion that all religion should be banned by Africa (now there's a man after my own anarchistic heart!), a sentiment echoed in Mustapha and Christopher, a song additionally imbued with highly Humanist sympathies for the problems of gay lovers. And if it's a tad difficult to nail the guy down to a category, that's because he refuses to stay put. "I was born different (from other artists)", he has said, and so "there should be no reason to play like anyone", which is as good a proclamation of identity as I've ever heard.
Ikwue has woven his way through a number of bands and Double-X is his latest, a klatsch of players from Nigeria, the UK, and America who demonstrate esprit, facility, verve, and, in the case of the backing vocals, angelic refrains. Though Bongos elegantly underscores the fusionistic aspects of his wont, bass player John Degbe really lights the joint up with some bass playing that will have even progrock and top-flight jazz musicians taking note—man, can that cat play! Bongos' baseline, though, is folk music peppered liberally with all kinds of influences masterfully threaded together to create a highly danceable spiritedly mellifluous result.
There are often more layers, however, than are at first noticeable in many of the selections. Cuts like the title track are a good deal more complex than the front-lying engineering evinces so that, when you listen a second and third time, you begin to see why the feel that made its way underneath your aesthetics the first time kept on bidding you to return to the disc. Clever, that. Most of the lyrics are sung in the land's language, a good thing, as shifting to English would've altered the dynamics and probably betrayed the rootsy inflections to a significant degree. There's no reason art should ever have to accommodate the audience, as it's up to the audience to discover what the art is. If you'd have it any other way, you're probably better off watching TV.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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