Aloha and welcome back to Found Sound (30th set)

This week Highlight: OFEGE – Try And Love 

Type in African Psych in a web browser and the most common results that pop up have to do with Zamrock, a term thrown on bands from Zambia, Africa in the ‘70s who mixed elements of Jimi Hendrix with the funkier side of James Brown’s soul spirit. Witch, the Peace, Chrissy Zebby Tembo, and Ngozi Family, all from Zambia, are the quintessence of this genre. But what about the rest of Africa? Considering the sheer size of the continent, was it possible only one country contributed to its rock and roll history?

A year or two ago, I came across Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges from 1968-1974, a double LP compilation put out in 2009 by Now-Again Records, a subsidiary of Stone Throw Records based in LA. The comp contains rare gems like Top Drawer and Sensational Saints, and is named after D.R. Hooker’s sultry jam, also featured on the album. But the track that immediately caught my attention was Ofege’s “It’s Not Easy.” I was in the midst of beefing up my collection of African records and had never even heard of Ofege. The track strangely reminded me of a slowed-down version of “Sweet Jane” mixed with Lynyrd Skynyrd, and was unlike any other African psych song I’d heard, with the lyrics, “I want to lose my mind everyday so that I can fall into your lovin’ arms.” I was sold.

Ofege, presumably formed in 1971 or 1972, were a crew of Catholic schoolboys from the Lagos region of Nigeria. That’s right, Catholic schoolboys. In Nigeria. The band consisted of Melvin Noks (lead vocals, guitar, percussion), Paul Alade (bass, vocals), M-Ike Meme (drums, percussion, vocals), Dapo Olumide (keyboard), and Filix Inneh (gong, vocals). In 1973, EMI released Ofege’s debut album Try and Love in Nigeria. Produced by Odion Iruoje (of Fela Kuti fame), the album featured nine original psych funk explosive tracks, all written and recorded by a bunch of Catholic schoolboys.

The album as a whole works wonderfully, although some of the songs sound a bit similar, not in a repetitive, banal way, but alike in tempo, with Noks’ vocals at the same pitch. “Whizzy Llabo,” the second track, opens like the credits to a Blaxploitation film, with Noks’ voice echoing over the funk: “When Whizzy Llabo smiles, you know that something’s wrong. When you see him dancing around, you better find your way.” The chorus changes pace and slips into a minor chord progression before coming back to the original verse. Almost all of the songs on the album feature a fuzzy wah-wah solo by Noks, but my favorite of his is on the instrumental track “Gbe Mi Lo.” Heavily driven by guitar and percussion, Noks really takes off on this one, at times a bit aimlessly, but always steered home by Meme’s steady beat.

Try and Love is the perfect example of a band more concerned with jamming and vibing out than perfectionism. The lyrics aren’t especially profound, but the Beatles sang about holding hands and driving cars long before they developed their ability to express themselves in song. Not only were Ofege young, they were Nigerian, singing songs of love and loss in English. The band would go on to release three more LPs by 1978. And yet, Ofege albums are rare, unrecognized, and they’re seldom mentioned in relation to African psych or rock or funk.

New York reissue label Academy LPs re-released Try and Love on vinyl in 2009. The album was the label’s first release. They have yet to release any other albums from Ofege. Hopefully that will change.

by Maya Eslami

FOUND SOUND is curated by Matthew Correia.