Red Steel Music 2020
Afro-rock ambassadors celebrate their fiftieth anniversary with cinematic triumph and project a hopeful look into the future.
To say that this ensemble, who’d brought ancient rhythms over to Europe five decades ago, always sounded futuristic – what with Tony Visconti producing and Roger Dean illustrating the Ghanian group’s early efforts – would mean to hugely underestimate their vitality, as OSIBISA always existed beyond the constraints of time. Which – together with their infectious music, of course – was the reason why Richard Linklater chose the band’s mid-’70s anthem “Sunshine Day” to sparkle in his Oscar-winning film “Boyhood” alongside Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Which, in turn, was the great excuse for saxophonist Teddy Osei, keyboard player Robert Bailey and their colleagues to mark the troup’s anniversary by issuing a bunch of rarities.
It’s much more than a simple collection of curious for connoisseurs; this disc includes alternative takes and before-the-audience appearances such a period piece “Superfly Man” – from the combo’s first foray into the O.S.T. domain – or the riff-laden “Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika” that’s unofficially considered the continent’s national anthem. With no dates or personnel details provided, one should assume all these compositions have been laid down by various line-ups, which doesn’t matter anyway. There are three versions of the title track – two remixed for the movie and revealing how good dusted-off cuts can be when tinctured with electronica and house groove, or even Balearic sort of techno, plus a less extended concert one: most naturally catchy and, thus, the brightest of all – and an on-stage, unplugged, incredibly brilliant delivery of the ensemble’s classic “Woyaya” where piano and voices gel in a magnificently uplifting way.
However, though rap is finely grafted onto the reimagined “Feel Good,” the flute and organ of the original recording capture the listener’s ear much better, while the team’s late ’90s hit “Hold On” has accepted new bass lines with a lot of grace. It’s extremely interesting to try and juxtapose the brass-splashed live reading of “Akiyo Bia” that stood out on the band’s debut – the number’s chant and tribal beats still fresh, with a fusion guitar solo adding a contemporary feel to the golden oldie – and a recently composed instrumental “Abele” that oozes a similar jazzy vibe but with a more pronounced disco element and synthesizers thrown in: these pieces, which were born in the same creative minds, emphasize the continuity of the veterans’ oeuvre.
With OSIBISA’s new album already in the can, going back like this is a great trip down memory lane.