Various Artists

Love's a Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa Comp

(Luaka Bop; 2005)

By Peter Hepburn | 13 April 2005

Globalization is a strange and powerful movement. One that, in it’s modern phase, is moving so fast and with effects on so many facets of life that it is often difficult to appreciate the breadth of the changes taking place. You can make an argument that it’s all just a giant wave of Americanization, but when you get down to the evidence it becomes clear that there’s a lot more at play. Localities interpret foreign cultural elements through the lens of their own cultures, changing things to better reflect their own identities rather than actually changing those identities. Hip-hop reflects this change clearly, but Luaka Bop’s new compilation of West African psych-rock from the early-‘70s, Love’s a Real Thing, shows that it’s just as applicable to, well, psych-rock. In West Africa.

David Byrne and Luaka Bop have a reputation for putting these esoteric compilations together well. Their Afro-Peruvian comp did an admirably good job, and though the first two volumes of the World Psychedelic Classics series, of which Love’s a Real Thing is the third, were somewhat questionable, this one really seems to nail it.

I say that knowing full well that I know almost nothing about African music. I have a few Fela Kuti records, and have a soft spot for Antibalas, but Love’s a Real Thing provides my first exposure to any of its twelve featured artists. For all I know they are horribly unrepresentative of popular trends or even the bands’ other material, but it does show the conscious manipulation of psychedelic rock to the music and realities of West Africa.

The music itself is something of a revelation. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Contonou Dahomey’s opener has some great guitar lines and soul wails. The Super Eagle’s title track is easily the catchiest song on the album, and seems like the sort of great little pop gem that could just of easily have sprung out of California in the ‘60s as Gambia in the ‘70s. “Keleya” is thick with James Brown wails and “huhs,” but also some serious polyrhythmic horns, but they don’t match the crazy xylophone lines on “Ceddo End Title” or the surf guitar intro to “Porry.”

The main misstep of the compilation is with “Guajira Van,” a song that, despite a decent guitar solo, feels more Afro-Caribbean than West African. Luckily it’s followed by the album’s highpoint, William Onyeabor’s terribly-recorded yet still jaw-droppingly good “Better Change Your Mind.” The song is a screed against hegemony and aspirations of global dominance set over a funky polyrhythmic beat, an almost Can-like drum line, and just a hint of an organ pulsing in and out. Onyeabor lets it ride for a few minutes in the middle of the song and he seems to be getting at the soul of psych-rock.

The squealing guitars and garage drums of “Allah Wakbarr” are invigorating, and contrast well with the more Afro-beat Gasper Lawal track. The last three songs don’t do much to set themselves apart, though “Ifa” does have a great central chorus and closer “Sanjina” does a good job of showing the sort of logical connections between Afro-beat polyrhythms and Western psych-rock.

I find movements like the apparent West African psych-rock explosion fascinating. It’s just one of those things that makes me think about how the world really works and how culture does spread worldwide and how much power music has. Still, Love’s a Real Thing isn’t getting by on the strength of the concept. These musicians were making music on par with that of the psychedelic bands of the American ‘60s. Luaka Bop is just finally clueing us in.