By Jide Taiwo
This reissue of various [Segun] Bucknor recordings made from 1969 – 1975 represents an interesting slice of Nigerian pop music history and culture. Much of the Nigerian music packaged for export to the West has promoted a particular musical style or point of view – hence the popularity (and availability) of recordings by the likes of juju artists King Sunny Ade and Chief Ebenezer Obey, as well as the more controversial Afro-Beat of Fela Kuti.
Bucknor, on the other hand, was one of the rank and file, a journeyman who was trying to eke out a living in Nigeria as a popular musician, and who was beholden to local record labels and the demands of the marketplace. Even over this relatively brief six year period, playing first with a group he called The Assembly, and then with The Revolution, Bucknor displays a stylistic diversity reflecting everything from pure commercial opportunism to heartfelt political and moral exhortations.
Regardless, Bucknor’s individual talent almost always shines through. He’s a strong, convincing vocalist in the American soul tradition, and had obviously listened closely to the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke. In fact, Bucknor had a direct connection to Western pop music influences, because he studied in New York City at Columbia University in the early 60’s, pursuing a liberal arts curriculum and taking courses in ethno-musicology.
The strongest pieces in this collection are arguably the least commercial. ‘Adanri Sogbasogba’ is one of two songs rendered in a native dialect (…Yoruba), and while the lyric is not translated, the funky James Brown-inspired horn riffs and throbbing bass communicate quite nicely, and Bucknor’s urgent, half-sung, half-shouted vocals would be persuasive in any language.
Also very fine is ‘Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow’ a typically earnest African admonition to count ones blessings, because ‘there’s always someone worser than you.’ This long piece gives the band time to stretch out, and Bucknor demonstrates his touch on the organ. The rhythm is light and graceful, almost calypsonian, and the prominence of the clave as a dominant percussion element enhances a solid Afro-Cuban groove.
The centerpiece of the CD is clearly ‘Son of January 15th’ (the date of Nigeria’s first military coup). This is Bucknor’s impassioned foray into social commentary, but as he relates in the liner notes, he lost his taste for political statements after a Colonel from the Northern army sent a couple of his lackeys onto the stage, and they took him aside and told him not to sing the song again.
In Nigeria, social and political commentary came to be associated almost exclusively with Fela Kuti, but Bucknor can’t really be faulted for not having Kuti’s unique combination of bravery and megalomania.
However, when Bucknor narrows his focus to personal relationships (‘La La La,’ ‘That’s the Time,’ ‘Love and Affection,’ ‘You Killing Me’), his music loses some of its conviction, and he sounds more like an American soul singer looking for a chart hit. ‘La La La’ (which is inexplicably presented in three rather similar versions) is certainly funky enough, but it sounds like a manufactured cross between Otis Redding’s ‘Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)’ and Toots Hibbert’s ‘Funky Kingston.’ The band still cooks, and Bucknor is always in good voice
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