on 6 November 2009
Wow! Do you want to feel good? Listen to this album! I've been listening to Osibisa since their first album in the early 1970s, and am a big fan of their classic sound. But my interest diminished after the fourth album in 1973, Happy Children. It seemed like the magic and inspiration had gone. There were some good songs, but none of the albums after 1973 excited me too much. I've been listening to this new album, Osee Yee, a lot since I got it; it gets my foot tapping and puts a big smile on my face. Without a doubt, this is the best album the band has done since Happy Children. It recaptures some of the early magic, but also shows the accumulation of experience. There's also more prog element than a lot of Osibisa material since the classic early years.
Osibisa's music is hard to classify. The original group of African and Caribbean players, living in London at the time, mixed rock with African folk and highlife music, Caribbean, jazz and a smattering of other sounds. The band is nowadays usually labelled a world music group. For those not familiar with Osibisa's music, it's very much rhythm based, with flute, sax, brass, guitar and keyboards providing the melody and harmony. (As a bass player, I have to comment on the excellent bass playing on this particular album.) The lyrics are in African and English languages, with the vocal harmonies being as complex and delightful as the drum and percussion parts. Osee Yee brings these elements together at a higher level than we've heard in years. This is partly due to the musician's abilities, but perhaps the music on this album is more inspired because this is Osibisa's 40th anniversary; some of the songs even quote musical lines from songs on the first few Osibisa albums.
Osee Yee opens with short rock-oriented instrumental, Osuno, then launches into another charging upbeat number, Watusi, that starts to bring in more of the African elements. The album proceeds through a variety of styles, some of them classic Osibisa hybrids, some African folk tunes, some funk-based R&B tunes, including a really nice rendition of George Harrison's My Sweet Lord that's given an Osibisa funk spin. A couple of numbers don't interest me as much as the others. Higher and Higher and It's Okay are more straightforward funk-based love songs. But they are so well played, and include enough classic Osibisa-style rhythm and horn parts to keep them from being pedestrian, so they only seem inferior in relation to the higher quality of the other songs.
The back cover calls this an Osibisa Generation Four album. Players have come and gone over the years, with leader Teddy Osei and his brother Mac Tontoh still in the group. (The Osibisa webpage mentions plans for a reunion tour and album by the original band members.) Overall, the playing is excellent, as is the production and sound. The best way to listen to Osee Yee is with headphones, to pick up all the little musical nuances and flourishes that have been added to the songs.
Osee Yee is interesting well-played music with great spirit; it's well worth anyone's listen. There's enough of the original Osibisa sound and feel that I'd have to rank Osee Yee up there with Osibisa's first albums. (Perhaps I'm enthused by Osee Yee because I'd given up on ever hearing another Osibisa album to rank with the first four.) It's not quite Woyaya, but the quality of the music, playing and production makes me say 4.25 stars. And the music makes me feel so good I'll round it up to 5.