Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Celebrating the Best of Osibisa

Here’s a band whose mission is to tell everyone there’s more to continental Africa than wars and despotic leaders.

By: Vanessa Uy

For all it’s worth, almost everyone I knew has a certain ignorant-leaning pre-conception about African music. Most of them conjure up sounds and images of 1930’s Johnny Weissmöler –era Tarzan. But lets face it, those of us who are “in the know” knew that it’s more than that.

Recently, all that we seem to hear about Africa is the crisis in the Darfur Region, “conflict diamonds” or what kind of atrocities the Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has inflicted upon his political rivals. Even one of the most trusted names in journalism, the BBC seems to have a fixation on the ugly facets of Africa. Well, as always, I’ve put it upon myself to explore what might have been to me an artistic expression that extols this continent’s rich cultural heritage: African Music.

The first time I heard “Celebration-The Best of Osibisa”, I was transported into a parallel universe: A universe were the Catholic Church gained enlightenment the same time Michaelangelo finished his paintings on the Sistine Chapel. A Catholic Church that learned the true meaning of “self-determination” and “human rights”; a universe were slavery was resolved in continental Africa without the European and American powers becoming entangled in its evil rigmarole. You know: an Africa whose art and culture was evolved by people who benefited from self-determination. We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?

Osibisa are one of those bands that helped launch a new style of music back in 1970 called "Afro-Rock." Osibisa’s fusion of African music and Rock laid the groundwork for succeeding generations of African musicians to benefit the growing worldwide interest in African music. Witness the success of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album whose roster of South African musicians gave them global exposure.

Osibisa, whose core members hailed from Ghana in West Africa, were catapulted to stardom on their gig in London back in 1970. Their albums became Afro-Rock classics like “Osibisa”, ”Wo Ya Ya”, ”Heads”, ”Superfly”, ”Welcome Home”, ”Ojah Awake” and “Mystic Energy” which collectively sold over 8 million copies-a feat no other African band has ever came close to.

Although passed over somewhat by the 1990’s World Music phenomenon that catapulted Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to crossover stardom in the MTV circuit and specifically, the ascent to stardom of Siphó Gumede and Moses Taiwa Molelekwa at that time. Osibisa created more than any other band, the groundwork for the entire African Rock Music movement to become the vibrantly flourishing culture today.

“Celebration-The Best of Osibisa” is their greatest hits compilation. For the benefit of those who heard them the first time around, the tracks on this album include: “Everybody Happy”, “Happy Children”, “Wo Ya Ya”, “Welcome Home”, “Right Now”, “Ke Le Le” and others taken from their previous albums. Osibisa’s sound and message, even back in the turbulent times of the 1970’s where most of the African continent is in turmoil, has an optimism that anticipated 1990’s post-Apartheid South Africa. To me, this album is highly recommended to Bob Marley fans so that they may gain a deeper insight into the roots of Reggae and Rastafarian culture.

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