DJ Miles Cleret / Soundway Records
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DJ Miles Cleret / Soundway Records


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"Hot Fuzz from Nigeria"

When British DJ and record collector Miles Cleret set out to unearth the forgotten treasures of 1970s Nigerian music six years ago, he quickly realised it was going to be an uphill task. Upon contacting the Lagos firm that had bought EMI Nigeria's entire archive after the label left the country in the early 90s, he was informed that the master tapes had all been junked years ago.

Cleret then embarked on an exhausting detective mission, tracking down DJs, producers, distributors and collectors to find original vinyl copies of long-lost singles. "A lot of the time you come across people who say, 'Oh yeah, I used to have all those records but I threw them away because I didn't think anyone would be interested,'" he says. The fruits of his labours are three lovingly curated compilations on his Soundway label.

Previous volumes featured afrobeat, highlife, disco and funk, but the latest, Nigeria Rock Special, is perhaps the most ear-opening. In spirit, it recalls the seminal garage-rock box-set Nuggets, capturing a scene in the first flush of youth, from the humid funk-rock of the Hygrades' In the Jungle to the wild soloing of Question Mark's wonderfully guileless Freaking Out. But even big acts such as Ofege and BLO never found an audience outside Nigeria, and lesser names have been forgotten even at home. "In Nigeria things very quickly slip into obscurity because people are always moving forward," says Cleret. "Nostalgia isn't as important there as it can be here."

The period between the end of the civil war in 1970 and the military coup in 1975 was a golden age for Nigerian music, as the country's oil boom briefly promised to bring prosperity. Many middle-class Nigerians were travelling and studying abroad, appetite for rock music was growing and British labels EMI and Decca saw a fertile market.

All but two of the songs on Nigeria Rock Special bear the fingerprints of EMI Nigeria's in-house producer, Odion Iruoje. As part of his training, he was dispatched to London to observe the recording of the Beatles' Abbey Road album. "What I liked mostly was the discipline and the teamwork," he says, making them sound more like a football squad than a band.

He honed his skills further by working with afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, although politics came between them. "He was talking about government, politics," he remembers disapprovingly. "He wasn't playing afrobeat anymore. I told Fela to first make sure he has won the international market before he can start all that."

Iruoje scouted for talent across Nigeria, recruiting crack session musicians to sharpen the recordings. "The band would come into the studio, set up and within four hours we'd finished a 45. Very professional." He urged bands to incorporate traditional idioms such as Jùjú and Yoruba rather than just mimicking western bands. Now 69, he wants to revive that spirit. "Now everyone's trying to imitate American rap and R&B," he says.

By the time Iruoje left EMI in 1978, the good times were already over. As oil money was siphoned off by corrupt politicians, crime and unemployment rose. The 7in single market dried up. Bands who once earned a crust playing hotels and clubs were squeezed out by singers with cheap synthesisers. Most groups split out of frustration. "Berkley Jones, the guitarist for BLO, is now a property developer," says Cleret. "He hasn't picked up a guitar in 10 years and yet he was one of the most talented guitarists in Lagos. He was a pin-up - a real star."

That is what makes Nigeria Rock Special as bittersweet as it is exciting. While some of their western counterparts, even if they didn't realise it, would have decades of recording ahead of them, the Funkees or the Hygrades were seizing a moment that would never come again. Every song crackles with the thrill of plugging in, turning up the volume and trying something new. "It was the start of the world opening up," says Cleret. "Suddenly these guys were wearing wild clothes, playing guitars, drinking, sleeping with women and living the life of a rock star." He laughs fondly. "It's just youth, really, isn't it?"

· Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz-Funk in 1970s Nigeria is out now on Soundway Records
- The Guardian 2008

"Nigeria Special Review"

It would have been difficult to find a way to hear this music in the UK back in the early 1970s - nobody was playing contemporary Nigerian music on British radio, and there wasn't a scene where non-Nigerians might wander into a club run by a Nigerian DJ and share the experience. A few wise birds were aware of Sterns Electrical Supplies near the top of Tottenham Court Road, which had a couple of boxes at the back stacked with albums brought by Nigerian and Ghanaian students at London University.

For every album released in Nigeria by Sir Victor Uwaifo, King Sunny Adé or Chief Ebenezer Obey there were dozens of singles released by less well-known artists that never found their way out of the country. Finally, thanks to the enterprise and diligence of Miles Cleret of Soundway Records, 26 previously obscure tracks are brought into the light in this collection, most of them first released as seven-inch 45rpm singles.

Having become reasonably well-versed in Nigerian music, I was a bit disconcerted to recognise only three names. Of the others, several look absurdly elaborate to a British eye: Collins Oke Elaiho & His Odoligie Nobles Dance Band; Dan Satch & His Atomic 8 Dance Band of Aba. Were some of the tracks chosen simply because the artist names were so exotic? It was impossible to avoid sceptical suspicion: could an album by so many unknown bands with bizarre names be any good? Yes it can and it is.

Percussion, horns and rough voices are common to many tracks, but it's the guitars that draw attention; sometimes propulsive, sometimes biting, always melodic. This was the period when the British guitarists Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi were competing to assault their listeners with sheer volume, but there's no sign that any of the guitarists here ever heard them. If they were listening to any Western guitarist, it was more likely Jimmy Nolen in the James Brown Band, whose scratchy, off-the-beat rhythms are evoked in 'Amalinja' by the Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination.

I've lost count of how often I've listened to CD One, and it reveals a new favourite every time. Right now, top of my list is 'Koma Mosi' by the Harbours Band, which includes the phrase 'easy motion tourist' that became the song's title when Sunny Adé revived it about 10 years ago. Sax sections can sound a bit of out of tune to European eras when played by West African musicians, but both the solos and the ensemble playing in the Harbours Band are immaculate.

The Sahara All Stars of Jos are another discovery, as laid-back and atmospheric as their name promises. The Anambra Beats are rough and ready by comparison, and I sometimes skip their track in search of a more soothing background sound. But let it play and its shuffling rhythm, outstanding trumpet solo and haunting chant take a firm hold.

CD Two is not as remarkable as CD One, but almost redeems itself with the last track, 'Akpaisong' by Etubom Rex Williams and His Nigerian Artistes. All in all, the collection is an entertaining reminder that Francophone West Africa does not hold the monopoly on the region's great music and it will be among the contenders for reissue compilation of the year.

Download: 'Amalinja'; 'Koma Mosi'; 'Akpaisong' - Observer Music Monthly 2008

"Ghana Soundz"

"Seriously Danceable from start to finish" - MOJO



Ghana Soundz : Afro-Beat, Funk & Fusion in 70’s Ghana

Afro-Baby – The Evolution of the Afro-Sound in 70’s Nigeria

Ghana Soundz Volume 2 : Afro-Beat, Funk & Fusion in 70’s Ghana

T.P Orchestre Poly-Rythmo : The Kings of Benin Urban Groove.

Panama!: Latin, Calypso & Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75.

Colombia!: The Golden age of Discos Fuentes – the Powerhouse of Colombian Music 1960-76

Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-76 (Double CD)

Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound of the Undergound Lagos Dancefloor

Nigeria Rock Special; Psychedelic Afro Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970’s Nigeria

Sir Victor Uwaifo: Guitar Boy Superstar 1970-76
Panama! Volume 2 - Latin Sounds, Cumbia tropical & Calypso Funk on the Isthmus 1967-77.




The Soundway Records Story

Soundway Records came about pretty much by accident – a natural conclusion to the international record hunting journeys of label boss and DJ Miles Cleret. The idea for the label came about in 2001 at the house of a renowned Ghanaian Radio DJ in Accra – a treasure trove of forgotten LPs and 45s, saved for posterity and kept away from the humid conditions that has lain waste to most of the old records in the Tropics.
Having long been interested in African music, Miles realized quite how much undiscovered music there was to be found and set about tracking down musicians to license tracks and hear the stories of how the music came about.

Although coming from a background steeped in Jazz and Soul, the breadth of styles and influences that weave the complex web of West African music supplied more than enough fuel for the nascent Soundway Label and led to the “Ghana Soundz” series - focusing on the Afrobeat and Highlife of the country - followed by forays into neighboring Benin with the inspirational “Orchestre Poly-Rythmo”, before landing in Nigeria with the seminal “Nigeria Special” series of compilations – throwing new light onto the music of one of Africa’s most populous and culturally diverse countries, and becoming one of the most successful African music compilations of 2008.
It is testament to Miles Cleret’s hard work and dedication that Oscar Sulley’s “Bukom Mashie” - a previously unreleased track he unearthed in Ghana - has become a staple in the African music scene, and was used on the soundtrack to the Oscar winning film “The Last King of Scotland” in 2007, on an equal footing with tracks from Hugh Masekela and Tony Allen.

Endless traveling and on-the-hoof detective work led to an ever-increasing set of contacts as the strands of the music were followed from town to town and country to country, ultimately leading to a trans-Atlantic leap to the Caribbean and Latin America, where the music has drawn from African sources and given back in equal measures - a cultural conversation that has provided some of the most interesting and vital sounds ever to be created.
To this end, Soundway has released compilations of music from Colombia and Panama, using African influences as a starting point and attempting to present as broad a snapshot of these fascinating scenes as possible.

Soundway is still looking forward, mining the musical riches that have been forgotten across the world. The next release – “Panama!2 Latin Sounds, Cumbia Tropical and Calypso Funk on the Isthmus, 1967-77” is a return to the hugely diverse country that joins South and Central America, and is the result of over 20 visits to the country over the past five years, giving a truly in-depth look at the musical heritage of an oft-marginalized place.

Quality control is a sticking point for Soundway Records so all albums come presented with a full colour 24-page booklet, untold stories behind the music and vintage photos and cover art.


Miles Cleret recently guested as a DJ for the Big Day Out festival tour in Australia and New Zealand and has previously performed as a DJ at Womad and Glastonbury Festivals in the UK.