Various Artists: Afro Rock Vol. 1

Strut Records re-releases Duncan Brooker’s ground breaking compilation of unreleased afro-beat tracks from across the African continent. Afro Rock Vol. 1 was originally released on Kona Records in 2001 and is credited as jump-starting American interesting in African music.

African music’s place in American culture is always arguable. Paul Simon‘s Graceland was the first real culturally significant American pop album that was heavily African inspired. Recent movie soundtracks like The Lion King and Broken Flowers have had heavy African influence. But Vampire Weekend is clearly the most prominent torch-bearer of African influences right now.

With the influence of African music in America stronger than ever right now, it’s interesting to know where African music has come from. Afro Rock is unlike other nation specific compilations; the album spans the entire continent. It features Ishmael Jingo from Kenya, Geraldo Pino from Sierra Leone, and Bokoor Band from Ghana among others.

The music featured on the album spans not only geographically but influence wise. Jingo’s “Fever” is a percussion-heavy funk-inspired track. Geraldo Pino & The Heartbeats’ “Heavy Heavy Heavy” sounds like James Brown fronting The Doors for a one night jam session. Steele Beauttah’s “Africa” is perhaps the most Afro-jazz sounding tune on the album. It’s clearly inspired by Mulatu Astatke. Das Yahoos’ “Mabala” features a traditional blues chord progression played in a funk style with some vocal samples and instrumental soloing over it. It’s probably the most traditionally rock-inspired track on the album.

The compilation attempts to give a grand brush stroke of the music of an entire continent. That’s no small task, yet it accomplishes it’s goal fairly well. You can hear the commonalities in the music while picking up the nuances that make each an individual. Afro Rock is probably a good jumping off point for anyone looking to get into African music.

Rating: 8.3/10