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Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA

The producers at Soundway Records have struck again, doing one of the things they do best: releasing extremely obscure, extremely specific, extremely good African/Afro-diasporic music (although they also release some extremely new, extremely  awesome African/Afro-diasporic  music as well, for example Ibibio Sound Machine).

These descriptors all apply to Orchestre Muyei Power, which was apparently one of the top dance bands in Sierra Leone in the 1970s, although we at the Afropop office had never heard of them. Unfortunately, the music of Sierra Leone (past or present) remains largely unknown to the wider world, and until now, this band has either been forgotten or missed by the reissuers, anthologists, bloggers and other lovers of the African old school who trawl the used record bins of the world. So, once again, all props due to Soundway for digging this up and sharing it with us all!

The music on Sierra Leone in 1970s USA is an about as excellent an example of hard-driving, straight-ahead Afro-funk as you could wish to hear. Every track bubbles with energetic percussion, conversing bass and guitars, richly harmonized vocals, soaring sax, fuzzy guitar solos, and a momentum that just won’t quit. Like so much African popular music from the period, the sound is strongly influenced by African-American funk, especially the syncopated grooves of James Brown, but also clearly draws on local musical and cultural traditions for the vocal melodies and rhythms. But unlike many bands at the time, Muyei Power’s music may actually have been shaped by direct contact with American audiences during the 1970s.

The tracks featured on this reissued album, some of the only recordings the band ever made, were captured in California in 1975-76, while Muyei Power was touring the college circuit in the U.S.

Wait a minute!

Think about that statement! This group was either well known, well connected, or simply brave enough to embark on a multi-year sojourn in the United States. Other African bands had done the same before (for example Fela’s disastrous but fateful American touring experiences in the mid-to-late 1960s), but for Muyei, we can only imagine how their hard-driving, percussion-rich Afro-funk would have connected with college students at that time, and speculate on how this encounter shaped their music. We can only wonder what bands shared the stage with them, what music they checked out during their American sojourn, and how these experiences influenced the band.

If these recordings can be taken as a testament to the quality of the music on that tour, we imagine that seeing Muyei Power live in 1975 must have been an insanely exciting experience. Their sound is that of a live band par excellence, with non-stop groove and extended solos the order of the day. Check out “Wali Bena” from the compilation to get a taste for the joys in store:

 

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