This was the one of three of big musical surprises that arrived in my mail box this month.
Jay U Xperience`s Abuja was a double hit to my sensibilities. Firstly laying waste to my expectations. Knowing that the artist was African in origin, and based on the band name, I presumed I was going to be listening to a set of Kwaito. Or Bubblegum. Dance floor chuggers in the mode of Penny Penny, or Sandy B`s Amajovi Jovi. Which Abuja most definitely is not.
Secondly, with a bit of Discogs digging I discovered that the man behind Jay U Xperience, Justus Nnakwe, is a veteran of the Nigerian Rock scene. A former member of the groups, P.R.O. and The Hygrades. That he once shared a stage with Stoneface, and solo was responsible for the sought-after grooves of Enough Is Enough.
These 70s productions are so different to the music on Abuja, that I thought the `Cogs must have got it wrong. I compared the artist portrait photos on the covers of the releases, and thought, “Could be”, but if it was Nnakwe then he`d hardly aged. The face on the front of the 1993 Ancestral Call CD didn’t look twenty years older. The only significant change was that a `fro had been swapped for a hat. I needed confirmation, so I emailed Chris at Left Ear Records.
“Yes mate. They are one and the same.”
In the 90s, relocating from West Africa to New York – he is currently in China – Nnakwe armed himself, musically, with a Roland R-5 and a Roland U-20. Which, on the evidence collected here, he somehow managed to make sound like Wally Badarou`s Synclavier orchestra. With its New Age swells, computerized counterpoint chimes, and forged flutes, I`ll forgive you for thinking that the E.P.`s an outtake from Mark Barrott`s Sketches…..series. No doubt due to the equipment used, bits of Abuja also come on like a pitched-down vamp on Ben Cenac`s Push / Pull Afro-House project. There’s a pronounced 4 / 4 driving the 100 BPM Okokobioko. Punctuated by DMX-like drum crashes. Its spoken vocal ringing with the playful genius of Francis Bebey.
Nnakwe`s machines mimic marimba, brass, and an array of traditional percussion. Ancestral Call is a Spiritual sung by a Fairlight-like chorus. The title track starts with a thunder storm and closes with birdsong. Like a prayer for a break in the weather over his homeland’s capital.
You can order a copy of Jay U Xperience`s Abuja E.P. directly from Left Ear Records.