It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Colombia-based label Palenque would eventually release recordings by Eastern Nigeria’s Afro-highlife pioneers, the Oriental Brothers International, a band whose career spans some 50 years. Coastal Colombia has been cranking out African-based popular music for decades, including tracks such as Myrian Makenwa’s “Amampondo” Grupo Folclorico’s “Jupiti”, and especially Wganda Kenya’s straight-up Afro-funk stomper “Shakaloade”. Moreover, Palenque label head Lucas Silva recalls Oriental Brothers records cranking out of Cartagena-area sound systems in the mid-1990s, when he first decided to launch the label. In fact, Colombia’s Champeta is clearly modeled after soukous and high life records brought to the country’s Afro-coast over the least 40-plus years, and the Oriental Brothers were the hands-down favorite for years.
O Ku Ngwo Di Ochi is the first new Oriental Brothers record in over 20 years. Since their last efforts, key members have passed away; however, original members Ferdinand Opara- aka Dan Satch- and Livinus Akwila (Aquila) remain. Musically, little has changed. Clave rhythms continue to underpin guitar weavings, as songs truck across the 10-minute mark, forcing the body to react. To hear any of their earliest records- or even tracks by some of their East Nigeria contemporaries such as Celestine Ukwu- is to hear highlife getting an infusion of sounds from Congo, with a de-emphasis on brass while the guitars eschewed chord changes for longer, more hypnotic grooves. It’s this basic concept that fuels Satch, Aquila, and their band to this day.
This release, digital only for now, houses five ten-minute tracks with no high points or filler. Choruses of harmony vocals cut across Kenneth Emenogu’s snaky lead guitar as Okechukwu Uzodinma’s six-string wanders down complimentary tributaries. In fact, the guitars function as much as primary and secondary harmony as they do convention notions of rhythm or lead. Here and there, the bass drops out, leaving the guitars to intertwine over the drummers, a tactic also prominent in the long form jams coming from former Portuguese-controlled islands such as Sao Tome & Principe. And it’s this focus on the club-floor relentless jam that has long differentiated Eastern Nigerian highlife from sounds coming from Western Nigeria or Ghana for that matter. O Ku Ngwo Di Ochi sounds as if no time has passed since the Orientals’s 70s heyday, and that’s as it should be.
Find the band online.
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