IT’S NOT EASY
by Daniel Finn·
Every month we take a deep dive into a specific genre, sound, or style. Through the lens of a playlist we compile some of the iconic and best artists to help understand and feel the roots and value of this music. This month we go deep into “It’s Not Easy - Psychedelic Afro-Rock”.
“It’s not easy” captures a sound with its roots in Nigeria. From the flashpoint of war, a unique and amazing sound spread through the African continent and the world. Prior to the Biafran war, which lasted from 1967 to 1970, the music of the west African struggle was highlife. A genre comprising of big band jazz and indigenous musical forms and languages. At the same time younger musicians were taking cues from western rock & roll in the form of the classic make up of guitar, bass, and drums. The stage was set for musical revolution.
In 1967, after multiple military coups, Nigeria fell into a bloody and ethnic war. Many of the musicians practicing highlife were forced to fight, and the Igbo - a minority ethnic group were forced to flea to the eastern part of the country. Once the Biafran war came to close in 1970, many of the older citizens had died due to fighting, ethnic cleansing, or poor living conditions. This created a vacuum for youth cultural renaissance. Many of the Igbo musicians returned from the east and joined the rest of the country’s musicians, collaborating and sharing the different styles of rock that they had been practicing through the war. Many of these young musicians had survived the war by avoiding fighting through performing to maintain moral for troops and citizens alike.
Lago’s became a hub of musical expression fuelled by the fresh memories of war as well as the continuing struggle for freedom. One epicentre of this was Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti’s Afro-Spot in Yaba, a suburb of Lagos. The Afro-Spot famously became the African shrine and hosted prominent Afro-Rock bands Ofo and the Black Company, The Funkees, Blo, and Monomono, as well as Fela Kuti’s famous Africa 70’ to name a few. A spectrum of rock, funk, psychedelic and afro-beat were being blended and performed like never before. A melting pot of styles expressed on a canvas of polyrhythms and native tongues.
Although it is fascinating that parallel to the Biafran war and the humanitarian catastrophe that ensued, afro psych rock was not only able to emerge but thrive. It cannot be forgotten that an estimated 1 million Igbo people died as a result of the conflict. This collection of songs is a story of music history but is dedicated to the people of Nigeria. Listen to their music, hear their struggles.