I bought this collection of Kenyan pop from the '70s and early '80s after hearing a few tracks on 6 Music and being impressed by the overall recipe - raw production, insistent hooks, loose-limbed funk and wild spirit. Oh, and the band names. What those few tracks promised is delivered on pretty much every one of the 32 songs included on this superb double CD. Plus you get some other ingredients like great playing, and singing that gets you right where you'd want it to.
I'm no expert on African music so I can't put it in much of a context, but, if you do buy this, the excellent booklet will give you all the info you need. From my hopelessly ill-informed perspective, I hear a range of obviously African sounds influenced by various Western musics, including some jazz, a tiny bit of psychedelia, and, above all, the inescapable power of James Brown funk. Even if you're not a dancer by inclination, ideology, age or physical fitness, this will get you moving.
What's particularly appealing is the basic production, which time and again just sounds like the band turned up, someone turned a tape on and that was about it. There's an unpolished sound and a looseness that's immensely appealing to anyone with love for the post-punk era, and an open sound that's as reminiscent of early Postcard Records as anything else. Except the playing and the singing is so much better. More recent African music often sounds like it's produced in a slick style with an eye on the international market. No-one can begrudge the artists that objective, but if you prefer "Nuggets" to Kings of Leon or Coldplay you'll probably enjoy this far more than contemporary African compilations.
As ever with compilations, it's invidious to pull out "best" tracks, but what the hell, the first four tracks on disc one pack one hell of a collective punch. There are other gems too, with my absolute favourite being disc two's "Keep Change Kairitu" by the Gatanga Boys Band. The lyrics, if I read the liner notes correctly, pretty much amount to "Saturday night and I just got paid, fool about my money, don't try to save", but the power is like nothing else you've heard before.
Oh, and the band names? Well, there's the Loi Toki Tok, the Rift Valley Brothers, Slim Ali & The Famous Hodi Boys, The Mombasa Vikings, The Lulus Band... but this is not to mock or to wallow in exotica. Those names convey a sense of pride and confidence. The music more than justifies that.