The Nigerian take on the subgenre is perhaps understandably less hedonistic than its Euro-American counterparts.
Nigerian businessman Humphrey Aniakor had no previous experience in the music industry when, in the late ‘70s, he launched the Duomo label in Lagos. His first release, Bassey Black’s album Someone to Love, sold over 100,000 copies, huge numbers for the Nigerian charts. The Dutch label Livingstone Studio has thrown its hat into the crowded African reissue market with Duomo Sounds Ltd., a two-LP set of Aniakor’s popular disco productions. The selections are consistently danceable, and at least in this sample, the Nigerian take on the subgenre is perhaps understandably less hedonistic than its Euro-American counterparts.
Christy Ogbah’s “Advice” opens the set with an agitated lyric. Over a thudding beat, Ogbah’s nasal alto gives counsel to his sister, who’s “losing a husband/ To another woman.” Phased synth sounds pass in and out of the mix like lasers, but the singer’s concern lends this futuristic timbre an anxious context that turns the sound into something that suggests a swarm of electronic locusts. Ogbah appears later in the set with the lighter sing-song funk of “Azomonfe,” which floats on a lilting high-hat beat.
For the most part, hard funk overpowers the robotic rhythms that are generally associated with disco, which means Duomo all-stars threw a more serious party. Johnny O Bazz brings the scratchy funk guitar on the somewhat more cheerful “Xmas Eve,” but the minor chords give it a slightly unsettling edge. The singer may insist that there are, “People freaking/ People dancing/ Celebrating,” but there’s an urgency uncharacteristic of the holiday.
The set gets to more typical me-decade lyrics on a pair of tracks from Mike Umoh, “Look at Me” and “Shake Your Body,” but this isn’t the bright bubblegum funk of KC and the Sunshine Band; video-game laser effects punctuate music that, while it may share some features of disco as we know it, is decidedly moodier. Bindiga contributes a pair of similarly upbeat tracks with “Disco Connection” and “Perfect Disco Machine,” but the title of the source album tells a different story: No More Starvation.
The most startling sound on the album comes from Duomo’s first success. Bassey Black & the Natty Messiah naturally reveal a reggae influence with the catchy “On My Mind,” but what’s most striking is that Black’s lead vocal has some of the affected, street-wise snarl of Lou Reed circa The Bells. It’s one of the best tracks on the set and comes as close to moving the soul as any other; it’s not exactly recognizable as disco, but don’t let that stop you from dancing to it.
The album ends on a soulful funk note with Eunice Mokus Arimoku’s “Ariro,” by which time you may well have forgotten that this was advertised as disco. No matter; the album is best in its back half, when it strays farthest from genre conventions. Duomo Sounds Ltd. doesn’t quite live up to the disco part of its subtitle, but by the time the album is over, it’s kept its promise to move your soul.