Graded on a Curve:
Tex Soul and the Bayonets, “Uto Nwa” b/w “Osi Na Ngada”

Want some good news? One stellar bit of current info is that the steady stream of recorded revelations originating from funky Africa is showing no signs of abatement. Up to now, most of these discoveries have hit stereos in the form of expansive compilations or single-artist collections, but the Academy LPs label has started knocking out a few limited edition singles for the eagle-eyed and sharp-eared collector. The latest is from Tex Soul and the Bayonets, and it adds another layer to the soundtrack of a most remarkable continent.

Anybody that’s spent a bit of time perusing the seller descriptions of rare records and the promo blurbs that often accompany the reissues of those same once-elusive items is surely familiar with the varying degrees of exaggeration that was part of the whole endeavor. It was a milieu where a rediscovered record was invariably transformed into a “lost grail of psychedelic overload,” an “unearthed must-own garage masterpiece,” an “uncovered proto-punk classic,” or an “essential retrieval of deep R&B.”

The likelihood however is that the first example would register as a pleasant but unexceptional blend of the Airplane and the Dead, the second like lesser tracks by The Leaves or The Blues Magoos, the third more like standard early mid-‘70s bar-rock with mild touches of solo Lou Reed or Ziggy-era Bowie, and the last like a solid Wilson Pickett knockoff. To varying degrees it was all music worth hearing, particularly for aficionados of any of the above styles, but it was surely not the stuff of exhumed legend that the sellers purported it to be.

And that was part of the game. Never one to spend exorbitant amounts of dollars on records when so much quality music had been cast off into the secondhand bins casually waiting to be picked up for very little money, I found those often elaborate descriptions of high-priced artistic grandeur far more entertaining and informative than enticing. Upwards of fifty bucks for a used copy of the reissue of Chilean psyche band Aguaturbia’s first album? Nope. But thanks for hipping me to its ten minute cover of “Crimson and Clover.” And when I finally did get to hear it I was suitably pleased.

The appearance of rare and previously unknown sonic finds will likely never cease. Time keeps marching forward and even in this abundantly connected and globally wired age, humans keep making music that manages to slip through the cracks, either going unnoticed (sometimes unreleased) or simply proving unable to overcome local or underground notoriety. The pleasant reality is we haven’t even come close to unveiling all of the buried treasures of the 20th century yet.

To back up my point I’ll just mention the continent of Africa. And thankfully as befits the digital age, the excavators of 1970s afro-funk are a little more forthcoming with their discoveries, at least at the reissue stage, than the seemingly more profit-minded (I’m gonna refrain from greedy) label owners of yore. Affordable multi-format reissues are the norm. Instead of just targeting the deep pockets of collectors, the general spirit largely seems to be focused on sharing the music and the necessity of keeping it available, with the profits helping to fund additional releases that broaden the landscape.

Awesome Tapes From Africa, Soundway, Strut, and even a label generally known for domestic soul/R&B/funk like Daptone; they are all part of the cause. And throw in the small but quite impressive Brooklyn label Academy LPs as well, for with the essential assistance of inexhaustible African-music hound and vinyl collector Frank “Voodoo Funk” Gossner, they have been kicking out some major volumes in the increasingly rich afro-funk catalogue.

Please consider Lagos Disco Inferno, a 2LP/CD various artist collection loaded with absolutely smoking dance floor mania and Psycho Alien Beat, the truly spectacular anthology of the fascinating Ghanaian group The Psychedelic Aliens. And that’s just two prime examples. The latest development is that Academy and Gossner have started a limited edition singles series, the most recent installment coming from Tex Soul and the Bayonets.

If you’re like me, the cadence of that name just might conjure up primo late-‘60s R&B from the American south. Tex Soul? Sounds like someone who might’ve hung out with the debonair likes of Archie Bell. But no, as delineated by the record’s press scoop Mr. Soul was from Nigeria, the eastern city of Aba in fact, this geographic circumstance making him an unknown in Lagos, the country’s biggest city.

Instead, he was an example of the universal phenomenon of “local legend”. The notes state further that “as a performer who could dance like James Brown, play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix, and belt out a song with the soulfulness of ages, Tex Soul’s name was prefixed by the word ‘Showman,’ almost as a permanent honorific”.

Did I write something above about exaggeration in the service of record sales? Yeah, I did. But the crucial difference here is that Academy isn’t directly insinuating that the two songs included on this single feature the kind of eternal belting that’s of the same league as Brown or Hendrix. No, they are instead simply extending the reputation (the legend) of Tex Soul as a live performer, additionally stating that the two songs offered here are from his “early soul group.”

And that description is an accurate one. But please don’t think either of the songs included here are simply approximations of US soul. Far from it; 1972 was the year, and the complex grooves offered by Tex and his group feel very period appropriate. In fact, side one’s “Uto Nwa” throbs with the strong pulse of afro-funk, placing it in the deep, rich zone that in western climes was once under the near sole dominion of the name Fela Kuti. But the sound of the Bayonets is scaled to provide maximum impact on the club stage, and if Tex Soul offered half of his storied showman self, it’s a cinch they went down an absolute storm.

But most important in the terms of this review, “Uto Nwa” is quite impressive in the home-listening department. The instruments intertwine with expert verve, and I especially like the distinctive sound of the keyboard, an element that gives it a very subtle rock flavor. And happily, side two’s “Osi Na Ngada” is no slouch either, featuring some tough drumming and very strong vocals from the leader. The only negative is that both songs end too quickly. But that’s been a common complaint with 7-inch records for decades, so common in fact that it’s basically a mark of quality to grump “I didn’t get enough.”

Subsequent to the Bayonets, Mr. Tex apparently made a nice splash in Aba group The Funkees, a band that received an extremely nice 2LP collection from Soundway a few months back titled Dancing Time: The Best Of Eastern Nigeria’s Afro Rock Exponents 1973-77. Soul left them however to form his own group The Vibrations, scoring some regional hits (hopefully soon to be reissued) before falling victim to death by suspicious circumstances in 1979.

Along with 45s from The Apostles and Stoneface & Life Everlasting (both groups notably of Nigerian descent), this short-player from Tex and his band presents the opportunity to hear this exceptional music outside of the standard scholarly context. Trim and electric, it was music intended to move bodies and sell some units. I’m unsure of how many copies of this run of 1,000 remain unspoken for, but it can’t be that many; those so inclined should investigate with due diligence.


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