When a 12” single called “Every Way But Loose” by Oneness Of Juju became dynamite on soul club dance floors in ’80s Britain, few could have imagined the greater depth in the back catalogue of the group behind the anthem. However, the group’s righteous motherland praise songs of the ‘70s would later become essential listening in the ‘90s, the heyday of ‘rare groove’. It was then that the rediscovery of the band’s former glories made it an explosively hot ticket. And here there entered African Rhythms.
Strut Records, consistently trustworthy curators of all things on the fascinating margins of black music, released an excellent OOJ compilation in 2001 but this reissue of the original 1975 album, whose stupendous title track “African Rhythms” became such cult listening, is timely, to say the least. To a certain extent, it is a prescient blueprint for the Kamasis and Shabakas of the millennium.
The thicket of heavy percussion, funky drumming, rousing horns and vocal chants stemmed from the vision of bandleader-composer-saxophonist James ‘Plunky’ Branch, a native of Richmond, Virginia, who embraced the teachings of San Francisco-based Zulu musician Ndikho Xaba without ever relinquishing his gospel roots. This is exactly why the music has such soul-stirring emotion amid the sonic density created by the layering of acoustic and electric instruments. it can also be heard through some of Branch’s peers, notably Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. Here magic is made by the way the bass guitar and Rhodes cast a rugged yet very sensual glow around the crisp, sharp tumble of the bongos, bells and congas.
Afro-centricity abounds on killer cuts such as ‘Kazi’, ‘Tarishi’ and ‘Mashariki’, while the entrancing surge of ‘Liberation Dues’ shows how astutely Branch was able to weave together freedom dances and radical black politics.
Oneness Of Juju, African Rhythms (Strut records)