Cultural appropriation can be rich and danceable. The varied musical influences that came and went among East African musicians resulted in some of the funkiest, vibrant pop music ever pressed to vinyl. DJ-journalist John Armstrong claims that the pool that he had to pick from for the Sterns African anthology Urgent Jumping! ran about a thousand songs deep. I believe him—and will be happy to hear whatever had to be left off this 27-track collection. This two-CD set runs two and a half hours and only scratches the surface of what must seem a bottomless (if bottom-heavy) supply of great music.

The groups represented feature members that came from a variety of East African nations. As Armstrong writes, “Tanzanians play in Kenyan bands, Kenyans in Tanzanian bands and Congolese and other Central and Southern African musicians play in both,” so he made no attempt to organize the set by nation of origin. The album is paced and organized in a way that is universally catchy and irresistible.

With tracks that cover the years 1972-1982, Urgent Jumping! focuses onzilipendwa—which loosely translates to “golden oldies.” The subgenre borrows freely from multiple, frequently non-African sources, including R&B, mambo and rumba, which also informs the super-up-tempo guitar-driven dance music soukous whose influence you’ll hear throughout the album.

There are other subgenres represented here, from benga, the pop music of the Luo people of Kenya, the Swahili dance music chakacha and kitoto, a label used for the simmering funk-rock of the band Sunburst. If it all sounds too complicated to keep score, it is. But the good thing is you don’t have to identify the subgenre to enjoy the music.

The set opens with the fairly relaxed “Rufana Ya Kiko” from L’Orch. Dar International. It’s a sweetly languid vocal track sung in Kiswahili with light rhythm guitar and a soulful tenor sax solo. Midway, the track shifts into an up-tempo mambo that pretty much defines the tone for the next two and a half hours: a soulful dance mix with gorgeous melodies and rhythms.

Kauma Boys Band cranks up the BPM with “Rose Atieno,” fueled by a fast and crisp soukous-like guitar line and a sweet vocal chorus. Orchestre Conga Internationale plays the inevitable James Brown card with the scratchy funk riff of “Nakupenda Sana,” from 1974. It comes off like a tight, five-minute Fela track. The JB sound is less evident on this set than on, say Cherry Red’s excellent Africa Airways. What you do hear is soukous; many of the tracks on Urgent Jumping! feature hot, lilting guitar riffs, though soul horns also play a prominent role as on tracks like Maquis du Zaire’s “Denise.”

Sterns went straight to the original master tapes for these great-sounding transfers. For “Dunia Ni Duara (Pts 1 & 2),” by the Nairobi group L’Orch. Moja One, a two-sided 45 was edited to form one long ten-minute track. While the drum sound firmly places this in 1982, the light two-guitar approach and vocal chorus sustain a pulse that’s somehow funky and serenely beautiful at the same time. As good as the album’s shorter tracks are, you may gravitate to the extended grooves of other two-parters like “Orchestre Special Liwanza’s “Vicky (Pts 1 & 2),” or the rapid-fire album closer from Orchestre Super Jambo, “Yenga (Pts 1 & 2).” It’s more than nine minutes of lightning fast guitar lines and sweet Lingala vocals that build a minimalist, melodic dance music that makes you want to hear more. Armstrong writes that he has already picked 27 more tracks for a proposed second volume of Urgent Jumping!. It should be just as essential as volume one.

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