70s West African funk reissues are such a heavy trend these days that it was inevitable living bands would start recreating the essential sounds of that easy-to-love, endlessly compelling era. And perhaps it was inevitable that the UK Soundway label would be involved, since it has released so many vintage titles from Nigeria and Ghana in recent years. Saxophonist Max Gruhard and producer Ben Lamdin (Nostalgia 77) spearheaded KonKoma, using longtime sidemen, and veterans of the legendary Ghanaian Afro-rock band Osibisa. Guitarist Alfred Bannerman and keyboardist Emmanuel Rentzos are central figures here, but to pull together this lush update of big-band Afro-funk took a host of singers, percussionists, guitarists and brass players. Together they recreate the sound and spirit of a bygone era that seems strangely relevant in the early 21st century.
Partly that’s because funk never dies. The squirrelly weave of guitars and percussion and blasts of brass on the opening track, “Lie Lie,” are pretty hard to resist. Reverential use of venerable organ sounds and guitar tones, enhanced by contemporary recording techniques, breathe life into a classic genre, rather than rendering it precious. Working from a demo without full sleeve notes, I can’t tell you much about the origins of these 12 songs, but, whether they are remakes or new compositions, they amount to a vivid, fun-loving homage to the era that inspired them.
“Handkerchief” is spare, mostly bass and drums, with the sizzle of a Tony Allen afrobeat groove. A single voice, rough like Fela’s, takes the center, adorned by economical brass hits and processed thumb piano. “Kpanlogo” has a bigger sound, a rolling clave-related groove not so far from Congolese soukous, overlaid with waves of brass and vocal driven by a spiky electric guitar riff to reach a dizzying crescendo. The instrumental “Accra Jump” delivers deep, slow funk with a bottomless pocket and a succession of quirky keyboard, twangy guitar, and fat brass breaks. “Yoo Eh” brings a floating, dreamy mood with warm, ringing guitar arpeggios, loping bass and a crisp lead vocal, answered by an airy chorus.
The final two tracks features Reginald ‘Jojo’ Yates on the ancient Ashanti harp, the seprewa, and folksy vocals. The tracks are sweet and unexpected, a classy finish for one of the funkiest releases you’ll hear all year. Oh, to see this band live!