Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Lafayette Afro-Rock Band

From day one hip hop has been about pulling music from the past and cutting it, stretching it, playing with it, spinning it in new ways. Sometimes it’s done in a way that’s heavy and entertainingly obvious. It makes us smile and say “Aw yea!” Think about the first time you heard De La Soul's Me, Myself & I and were instantly transported back to Funkadelic. Other times it’s subtle. A couple of notes here. A vocal slice there. J.B.'s distinctive OWWW. Sometimes they’ll sneak a song in that has a direct connection to a dusty gem that you won’t connect unless you have some ear time with the classics, like Salt-N-Pepa’s Tramp pulling from the song of the same name by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. Then there are the ones that unless your music collection has more vinyl in it than megabytes, they’re so obscure, forget about it. These are the ones that you get tipped off by people who get paid to know their stuff or you stumble across it by some mistake. Take the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band for example.

At the end of the 60’s and the turn of the 70’s, black American musicians were making connections between what they were funking out to here in the States and what was laid down in Africa. With the growth of black nationalism came the growth of African culture, including the music. And the notes weren’t just flowing one way, there was a mutual exchange going on. You had Fela playing in the US and James Brown playing in Nigeria. A lot of tight grooves were being laid down on tape in Europe as well. Starting much earlier with the exodus of the jazz greats across the ocean, black musicians found the European environment much more racially accepting of them and appreciative of their skills. Soul Makossa, the great Manu Dibango tune which became a hit here in the U.S., was actually recorded in Paris.

In 1971, a group from Long Island named the Bobby Boyd Congress decided to try their luck in Paris as well. They would soon change their name to Ice and would begin in earnest to make a name for themselves by playing live in the African section of town (where they would pick up highlife elements to fuse with their base of soul and funk) and through the recording of several albums. To reflect their sonic evolution the band changed their name once more to the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band (although they’d adopt several other short lived names and eventually revert back to Ice). They’d even cut their own cover of Dibango’s hit and name one of their albums after it.

The group would stick together through to the end of the decade but wouldn’t see the turn of the 80’s. They left behind a collection of soul and funk albums that would eventually become fodder for many hip hop artists over the next few decades. Remember the sax intro to Wreckx-N-Effect’s Rumpshaker? Yup, straight from Darkest Light (which has also been used in Public Enemy’s Show ‘Em Whatcha Got, more recently Jay-Z’s Show Me What You Got, and many others). How about Biz Markie’s Nobody Beats The Biz? Try listening to Hihache (which you’ll also find hidden in LL Cool J’s Jingling Baby, De La Soul’s Oodles of O’s, etc.). The list is endless, but for the most part, largely unknown to most listeners.

Thankfully, the diggers over at Strut Records did their job well in rediscovering this staggering source of samples which has been pulled from for the last thirty years. They put together fifteen of the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band’s funkiest and most sampled cuts for a collection titled Darkest Light: The Best Of that was originally released back in 1999. With the recent rebirth of Strut, they’ve polished it back up, added some to the liner notes (which, as always with Strut releases, are phenomenal and go into much greater depth and detail than I have), and are set to re-release it on February 17th. Here’s your chance to dig your teeth into a sampler’s paradise.

Visit the Strut Records website and become their friend on MySpace.


1 comment:

legbamel said...

Thanks for introducing me to them. I'm a big Manu Dibango fan but I'd never thought to look for covers before. I had to go find their cover of Soul Makossa, and it's fantastic! I'm glad to have gotten my daily dose of funk here, as well.