Nigeria: Hungry Man By Keyboard

23 July 2014
music review

Soundway Records' reissue of Hungry Man is a fun and energetic blast from Nigeria's 1970s afrobeat funk and rock past.

Hungry Man is a record with a modest mythos surrounding it. The LP is a one-off studio project between musicians Broderick Majuwa and Isaac Digha along with titan producer Odion Iruoje 'Keyboard' at EMI Nigeria.

The exact recording date of Hungry Man is unknown, though thought to be sometime around 1978, and physical copies have been in short supply for over 35 years. The same could in fact be said of a plethora of exciting Nigerian records from the 60s and 70s that have all but been forgotten and out of reach for decades. However, thanks to the efforts of Soundway Records and similar record companies, some of these albums are now being pulled back out of obscurity.

Hungry Man is amongst these. It is made up of six tracks written and performed by Majuwa and Digha along with a selection of West African stars such as Ignace de Souza of the Black Santiagos and Jonni Wood from the SJOB movement.

The result is a cleanly-recorded, funk-heavy afrobeat journey that at times brims with madcap exuberance and at others sits back in the groove. The crisp guitar production allows each strum to be heard and contribute to the swirling funk drive, while Keyboard's producing skills, as well as those of his sound engineers Emmanuel Odenusi and Kayode Salami, are undeniable as he ensures Hungry Man sounds resplendent, giving every instrument space amidst tight rhythmic hooks.

The most outstanding feature of the record, however, is the use of brass arrangements that sit high in the mix. Majuwa and Digha use trumpets to lead songs rather than as mere window dressing, and soaring brass performances appear in every track. The trumpet solo on 'Peaceable World' is especially jaw-dropping, roaring above the slick hooks put together by the bass and drums.

Keyboard seems happy to let the bass heavy grooves just run, which is to the record's strength. The tracks are relatively lengthy - the shortest is just over four minutes - affording Majuwa and Digha the space to experiment with sounds and textures. Laconic synths seep through some songs. The second track 'I Wish You Know' is perhaps the best demonstration of this, but there is noodling too. In moments on 'Peaceable World' the synthesiser drops into an undulating pitch-shifted solo that keeps the mellow, drowsy feel to the song despite its frenetic energy.

The song-writing is solid, though ultimately it comes across as perhaps a little too careful. Moments of excess feel conspicuously planned. Solos end quite abruptly, and some of the songs lack the effervescent energy that could make them readily and immediately revisitable.

The vocal delivery is intuitively close to the music and lyrics are not always audibly clear, but the singing itself is a positive addition to the whole record. Without greater context, the distinguishable lyrics on the record come across as a series of spacey reflections and cogitations: "I wish you know what is my mind, my man" becomes a mantra on 'I Wish You Know'.

Yet with closer inspection, the lyrical themes are more profound. The song titles 'A Big Mess', 'Peaceable World' and, most of all, 'Tomorrow We Can't Say' suggest Keyboard's broader concern with their place in the world, its state and an uncertain future. But amidst the reverb, the more sincere themes contained in the song titles are, at times, obscured.

By contrast, however, the meaning of the music itself is clear for all to hear and, whatever the deeper lyrical meaning of Hungry Man, its message is one of frenetic fun and glossy, infectious funk.

Hungry Man is released on Soundway Records on the 28 July. Pre-order it here.

James Bullock is a freelance journalist and researcher with a particular focus on sub-Saharan political development, post-colonial literature and West African music. He has been published in the Financial Times and Monocle magazine. You can contact him via his twitter.

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