First published in Songlines Magazine issue 148, June 2019.
Mr Bongo (37 mins)
The opening track of this album starts with a chant of ‘Funky, funky, funky Rob! Funky, funky, funky Rob, yeah!’ and I’ll tell you what – they’re not wrong.
This album was the 1977 debut by the monosyllabically mononymic Rob, freshly back in his hometown of Accra, Ghana, after honing his skills in Benin as part of the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. Originally enjoying only a small number of pressings, Rob passed into record collectors’ legend; it was reissued once by Analogue Africa in 2011 in limited numbers, and now Mr Bongo is finally giving it a full-scale international release.
With Rob on organs, synths and vocals and backed by the wah-wah guitars, interlocking percussion and blasting horns of the Mag-2 band (and as those opening lyrics tell you), funk is the main ingredient here. A lot of the music is very much in the James Brown mould, but highlife plays an important role too, and the traditional rhythms of the drums root the sound unmistakably within West Africa.
There’s a range of moods across the album, and although it feels as if the musicians are more comfortable playing for the disco than the lounge, each track is as cool as the next.