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REVIEW: OSIBISA AT THE LONDON AFRICAN MUSIC FESTIVAL 2010

 

By Shola Adenekan

Wednesday, October 6, 2010.

Good things, they say, come to those who wait. And so it was with the popular Anglo-Ghanaian band Osibisa at London's Stratford Circus on Saturday, September 27. It was the eighth anniversary of the London African Music Festival and coincidentally, Osibisa's fortieth anniversary as a group.

The audience is made up of mostly nostalgic lovers of 1970s' African music and a few curious younger people in their 20s and 30s. The show was supposed to start at 7.30pm but Osibisa did not appear until almost an hour and a half later. Filling the void was a new Nigerian group Femi Sofola, whose band leader and members did their best to warm up the rather laid-back audience. At times, the music showed flashes of great promises, and  other times it's pedantic. Throughout, the audience gave polite applause. Obviously waiting for Osibisa.

And yes, Osibisa did appear; thundering drums, funky boots, rock guitar, Asante words and Anglo-African tunes. Before Bob Marley and the Wailers captured Britain with Reggae, before Soul 2 Soul; before So Solid Crew and UK Garage; and before Kano and Grime music, there was Osibisa. And the band shows that old musicians never die, they just get better and better.

For students of modern African music, the 1970s was a period of renaissance of Black Diasporic music. It's also an era in which musicians across the Diaspora forged alliances and sampled one another. These cross-Atlantic cooperations gave rise to African rock - a funky guitar-infused African music, which briefly reigned throughout West and central Africa before Disco became king.

What Osibisa did on this night is to bring back African rock to the faithful, and the audience in turn loved this journey into the golden past. They played some of the tunes that made them great success  in terms of hit singles and albums. Music that saw them performing alongside the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. Tunes that made them the first Black British group  to pioneer a bestselling fusion style that mixed west African highlife influences with reggae, soul, jazz, rock, calypso and unashamed pop.

Osibisa was formed in London 1969 by Eddy Ossei, who came to study in the city from Ghana after stints in the bubbling Accra highlife scene. In 1970, Osibisa became  a collaboration between three Ghanaian and three Caribbean musicians. Simply put, they were, and still are, music's answer to Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic.

This was also a night that paid tribute to the departed; a few members of the group have died over the years, most recently is the founding member and trumpeter Mac Tontoh, whose death occurred on August 17, 2010.

But this is not just a journey into the past, Osibisa played tracks from their latest work, such as tracks from their last two albums - 'The Very Best of Osibisa' and 'Osee Yee'. And there were popular tracks like 'Woyaya', 'Fire', 'Ayioko' and 'Music for Gong Gong'. It's only apt that as the evening draws to a close, it is with a rendition of Miriam Makeba's 'I Feel for Pata Pata' and their own evergreen tune 'Sunshine Day'. By then, members of the audience are already on their feet, dancing the autumnal night away.

Charismatic band leader Eddy Osei shows the audience that he still has the funk despite being restricted to a wheelchair for most of the night. He rolled back the years and wowed the audience by combining the sax with singing and brass work. Gregg Kofi Brown, who joined Osibisa a quarter of a century ago, really put the groove into the night. He sang, played the rhythm guitar and danced the night away in his funky boots. 

Osibisa may not be as cool as they once were, but they gave their audience a great time.

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