West Africa in the 1970s was a haven for generously proportioned orchestras cranking out infectious rhythms. Local drumming styles cross-pollinated with James Brown, rumba and shave-and-a-haircut Afro-Cuban clave, giving rise to the likes of Benin’s Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, Ghana’s K. Frimpong and Nigeria’s Segun Bucknor. Yet, often forgotten is the fact that the little sliver of river and shoreline that jutted into the middle of Senegal, the Gambia, had a thriving music scene of its own. As far back as the late ’60s, the Super Eagles stormed Banjul, stages, decked out in cheap military garb turned Sgt. Pepper-hip, cranking what was essentially Western rock.
A trip to London in 1970, where they performed tunes featuring Wolof lyrics sailing atop grooves that seemed to blend their own heritage with sprinklings of merengue, made them reconsider their direction. After spending a few years truly digging into traditional Senegambian folk forms, they found their own sound and won the praise of future stars Thione Seck and Youssou N’Dour. In 1972, they recorded their only LP before changing their name, Viva Super Eagles. Recently, “Love’s A Real Thing,” a track from that album, gave a Luaka Bop compilation of potent ’70s-era West African get-down its title. And while the track itself is perhaps the most Western-influenced piece on the collection, there’s something eerily profound about the familiar when another culture interprets it.
The Super Eagles then changed their name to Ifang Bondi (Mandinka for “be yourself”) and continued until the ’80s, when Gambia’s, and much of West Africa’s music scene, either collapsed or got swept along with the next trend.
Senegambian Sensation (Retroafric)
Gis Gis (by Ifang Bondi) (M&W)
Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa (Luaka Bop) (title track is by Super Eagles)