Sunday, May 21, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1007: Paul Ngozi

I’m in the middle of a four day weekend and getting my money’s worth out of every minute of it so far. On Friday I went a little crazy and bought 13 albums, which is a lot even for me. Here’s the list:
  • She & Him, “Volume 3”
  • Mountain Goats, “Tallahassee”, “The Life of the World to Come,” and “Goths”
  • Gillian Welch, “Revival” and “Time (the Revelator)”
  • Dawes, “Stories Don’t End”
  • The Civil Wars, “Self Titled”
  • Nick Drake, “Pink Moon”
  • Josh Ritter, “Hello Starling”
  • Hem, “Rabbit Songs”
  • Shangri-Las” “Best of the Mercury Years”
  • Sun Kil Moon “Ghosts of the Great Highway”
I’ll review those as I roll them, but for now you can rest assured that there is still plenty of sailing before the CD Odyssey reaches its Ithaca.

Disc 1007 is…The Ghetto
Artist: Paul Ngozi

Year of Release: 1977

What’s up with the Cover? A blue and white drawing depicting an African ghetto, complete with straw shanties, old boots and bins full of garbage. The disembodied head of Paul Ngozi looks on from the Land of Awkward Photoshopping.

How I Came To Know It: I was in one of my local record stores a couple of years ago and I heard some very cool music being played in the background. I asked the clerk what it was and he told me it was the Ngozi Family. I bought that album that day and loved it, so when I saw another record featuring Paul Ngozi I snapped it up as well.

How It Stacks Up:  I have two Paul Ngozi albums: this one and another where he performs under the name Ngozi Family. Both are awesome, but since this is where I am supposed to stack them up I’ll give the slight edge to “The Ghetto”

Ratings: 5 stars

Paul Ngozi is one of the principal artists of the Zamrock movement, which took place in Zambia in the seventies. A lot of Zamrock didn’t survive because there wasn’t much care taken to preserve the master recordings over the years, but what we do have is pretty awesome.

“The Ghetto” is a mix of African rhythms, crunchy guitar riffs and sixties psychedelic rock, blended to perfection. Guitarist and vocalist Paul Ngozi is at the top of his game, laying down riffs so thick with fuzz and feedback that they practically generate their own gravity. There isn’t anything musically complicated here, just the insistent chugging of Ngozi’s guitar summoning the gods of rock.

At the same time to construct so many solid and amazing rock riffs, each one unique, is a miracle in itself. If these songs don’t make your head bob along in time then there may be something wrong with you. Perhaps your groove is broken? If so, please see a doctor, as a broken groove is no laughing matter.

As you might expect, the production on this record is limited, and I can only imagine what limited resources Ngozi had to record this stuff in his native Zambia. While this would detract from a lesser record, the crunch of songs like “Who Will Know” and “Can’t You Hear Me” is undeniable. The only impact the limited production has on these masterpieces is to make them feel more raw and visceral.

With all the heaviness on the record, Ngozi wisely throws in a few palate cleansers. “Anasoni,” “Bamayo” and “Ulesi Tileke” all have an easy flow, and are given a bit of added jump through the tasteful application of African rhythms. “Bamayo” in particular feels celebratory and relaxed. I have no idea what the song is about, but the tune makes me want to dance at a backyard barbecue while sipping a mint julep. It is just…chill.

Ngozi does more than rock and relaxation, though; this is also music with a message. “In the Ghetto” paints a picture of poverty and despair, and calls on parents to “reduce your drinking” which I found interesting. Not “stop your drinking” but “reduce your drinking” as though he knows a full stop is not a realistic goal for people this badly off.

The album also has religious overtones but never feels preachy. Even on “Suicide” when Ngozi warns “God will punish you,” it feels more like he’s trying to get you to hold on, rather than threatening you with damnation. On “Jesus Christ” Ngozi tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion, reminding us that “Jesus Christ, he was a man of peace” and when he sings “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” it feels half like he’s quoting Jesus and half like he’s personally asking God to forgive the Romans.

“The Ghetto” is a record that is loaded with the frustration and aggression of Ngozi’s surroundings but it never descends into despair. Instead, it channels that rage into powerful music and a message of hope and forgiveness. It does all this while rocking as hard and heavy as anything you’ll hear.

Best tracks: all tracks

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