Repertoire [Release date 18.09.15]
It’s hard to know just who this album is aimed at, as long term fans will have the album highlights (particularly the early career material), but will have little interest in a series of outtakes, coffee adverts, disco and mono mixes.
At their best, Osibisa were a ground breaking band who fused Afro-jazz rhythms with world music, before achieving global success with singles such as ‘Sunshine Day’.
The band became an object lesson in brand name management spread over 3 decades, as they cleverly repositioned their ‘crisscross rhythms’ in line with the whims of musical fashion.
Where back in the 70’s some fans might have called it selling out, founder member Teddy Osei makes clear in the liner notes that he saw it as an exercise in survival by garnering new fans through a willingness to bend to the market forces of funk, disco, Latino and more pretentiously world music.
The band set the benchmark back in 1971 with their debut, self titled Billboard chart album, which was a glorious fusion of afro jazz, funk with Latino influences, which all pop up fleetingly on the double CD ‘Singles, As, Bs & 12 Inches’.
You could argue any such set is always going to have problems presenting a coherent account of an Afro band that originally connected to the rock market through some astute label management from Gerry Bron.
It was Bron who had the vision to hook up Osibisa with fellow label mates Uriah Heep, for the thunderous conclusion to the title track of latter’s big selling rock album ‘Look At Yourself’, but Osibisa were all too soon looking at the lucrative crossover market.
The band’s subsequent career is charted on a compilation full of alternative takes, different mixes and worse still DJ mixes, but if you focus on their core music, there’s still flashes of what originally made Osibisa such a great band.
The biggest problem with this album is simply the way in which it has been jumbled together and no amount of liner notes can disguise the fact there’s no coherent sequencing.
CD one opens with the poppy ‘Happy Children’ and a TV coffee advert ‘The Coffee Song’, while the big hit ‘Sunshine Day’ comes early, to give the impression the project is aimed at the bargain basement motorway services market.
There’s several misguided steps at disco, funk – albeit the band would point to an upward sales curve at the time – and even excerpts from a Blaxploitation movie on ‘La Ila I La La’, which isn’t much better than it sounds.
And yet through all the contrasting attempts to remain either relevant or simply commercial – they even include a cover of ‘Woolly Bully’ – the band’s essential musical DNA still shines through when they stretch out and jam on ‘Sunset’, to tap into the original spirit of their music.
There’s also room for occasionally revisits to their classic self titled debut album with both the political ‘Think About The People’ and the celebratory ‘The Dawn’. The fact these 2 tracks are the album highlights, gives you a clue as to the band’s ever changing musical style and the scatter gun approach of the compilation.
In complete contrast to the early material, ‘Sacrifice’ sounds perilously close to Boney M, and ‘Dance The Body Music’ is outright disco (albeit good disco), though you’d be hard pressed not to hit the dance floor on the jumping ‘Living Loving Feeling’ and the horn led funk of ‘Celebration’.
The latter tracks prove that even when in cruise control, the band had the ability to achieve the kind of commercial success that others would kill for.
Put simply, ‘Singles As Bs & 12 Inches’ is too inconsistent and musically diverse to deliver on the promise of definitive Osibisa collection, but the best moments are still worth seeking out. ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00
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