Various - Wake You Up! The Rise and Fall of Nigerian Rock 1 [Now-Again Records - 2016]This meticulous compilation details some of the rock music recorded by Nigerian bands, in the years following a devastating civil war which lasted thirty months. This material is collected up in a nice package - a cd in a hardback book, or a double vinyl album with softback - however, I’m reviewing a digital version here. The booklet is quite a tome: over a hundred pages of band histories and discussion, as well as endless amazing photos of the bands, their records and the people of Nigeria.
As you can see, this is a weighty package, and one that I won’t be able to do true justice to here. To some extent, you may well have already decided whether you are interested or not, simply by reading the compilation title. Certainly, it’s an album that will have some people instantly excited. For those wavering, or just not interested, I’ll pick out some of the particular highlights for me.
The album looks back to the time when Nigeria started to ferment overt ‘rock’ bands - the introduction to the book actually explicitly links this process to the years of civil war, chronicling how Hykkers developed from a pre-war, clean-cut, Beatles-esque pop band, into a much harder proposition all round, ‘…filled with funk, fuzz and fury.’ The album thus documents this new sound, with forays into harder grooves, screaming guitars, and even proto-metal. Here, ‘harder’ is very subjective, there’s only a few tracks here that really achieve any hardness or heaviness in an obvious ‘hard rock’ sense. It might be more prudent to perhaps point towards the energy of garage rock. Indeed, several of the tracks do remind me of the territory covered by the Nuggets compilations. Graceful Bird, by War-head Constriction, couples a verse that threatens to collapse into shambles, with a truly rocking chorus that seems to channel Black Sabbath through that Nuggets spirit. Question Mark (with a name that echoes one of the most well-known garage rock bands, ? and the Mysterians) also reflect that compilation series. Their Scram Out has an exuberant, youthful-sounding, garage energy, as well as a fuzzed out solo that gets fed through colossal reverb - another staple of Nuggets, the often ‘kitchen sink’ productions. In a less noisy vein, Mother, by Waves, has an almighty bass line; it’s muscular and snaking at the same time. Everybody Likes Something Good, by Ify Jerry Krusade, is another song with shades of Nuggets. Like several of the compilation tracks, it features a prominent organ; I’ve always thought that this is an under-appreciated instrument in rock, and their repeated presence is very welcome. The chorus of Everybody Likes Something Good is a really propulsive affair, rocking and rolling with an irresistible rhythm. This heightened sense of groove and funk is well evidenced elsewhere. Keep On Moving, by Hygrades, transports the funk machinery of James Brown to Nigerian climes, whilst P.R.O.’s Tell Me is an extended, eight-minute plus workout that borders on trance music.
I think for some people, Wake You Up!, will present some kind of holy grail. It presents a snapshot of a period where a harder sound was explored by Nigerian bands. Each of the seventeen outfits on the album has a different take on this. Some try to present a rock, or funk, sound whole, while others mesh it with handed-down Nigerian musics. Ije Udo, by Magnificent Zenians, is almost a harder take on highlife music, whilst the aforementioned P.R.O. meld organ stabs, fuzz guitar and vocal effects to a trance-like structure driven by bubbling percussion - both sound resolutely non-western.
As well as the sounds, we have the stories behind them as well, which are documented at great length in the booklet. As well as the histories of the bands themselves, there is also consideration of the fashions of nigerian pop/rock at the time, as well as intriguing tangents where the role of the army becomes implicated in the music! This isn’t for everyone, and not every track here hits the spot for me, but it has some true gems on it. However, the whole package is quite something - if the compilation title caught your eye, this is pretty essential.Martin P