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Uncut JUNE 2020 - by Nigel Williamson

EDIKANFO: THE PACE SETTERS

The Ghanaian octet's eclectic lost classic

On the last day of 1981, a coup d'état imposed military rule on Ghana and the constitution was suspended. Democracy wasn't the only casualty: eight-piece band Edikanfo had just released their Brian Eno-produced debut album and were preparing to tour Europe and America. The government had offered to fund their travel, but when the new regime announced there was no money, the band broke up. Edikanfo's only album was swiftly forgotten, and has been unavailable ever since.

The first reissue of The Pace Setters reveals an album fusing local West African styles such as highlife with exuberant slabs of Western funk and disco. With the band delivering the grooves with a verve and precision as tight as the house bands at Motown or Stax, Eno didn't really have to do much more than press the record button.

The quid pro quo was that after producing Edikanfo's album in Accra, Eno would record backing tracks with the band for use on a world music album of his own, "a sort of early Graceland idea, as he put it, panned as a follow-up to My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Yet when he started reworking the tapes back in New York, he realised he was wasting his time. "Everything I added sounded clumsy and unnecessary compared to their witty light funkiness," he noted.

The intuitive and energetic ensemble-paying on the six tracks on The Pace Setters illustrated exactly what he meant. From the first notes of the opener, Nka Bon - it translates as 'togetherness' and was ironically adopted as an anthem by the military junta - this is African funk at its most potent. Gilbert Amartey Amar's propulsive bass lines, the horn section of Osei Tutu (trumpet) and Paa Akrashie (sax) and the call-and-response vocals owe something to Fela Kuti's mighty Afrobeat, but the synths and disco hi-hats take us into boggie wonderland. Traditional Ghanaian highlife is given an electronic update on the exuberant Something Lefteh-O before it's back to the disco floor with Gbenta, its loping 6/8 rhythm sounding like Bob Marley's Jamming played by Earth, Wind And Fire. The instrumental Blinking Eyes has a Booker T & The MG's feel, with a great jazz-funk electric piano solo by Ishmael Odai, while Moonlight Africa and Daa Daa Edikanfo are further thrilling examples of funked-up, high-octane highlife, the latter essentially a showcase for some chop-busting solos.

Four decades on, a lost classic is not only rediscovered, but Amar has now put the band together and reports that the surviving members are in the studio recording a follow-up. That aborted world tour is being rescheduled too. Welcome back.

EXTRAS: 6/10. Liner notes by Eno.


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