This is one of those reviews that is going to be disappointing. A release like ?Living is Hard: West African Music in Britain, 1927-1929? is so dense and important, with a richness of history and music alike, that a long article, at least, is needed to do it justice. Honest Jon?s has compiled a historical document that fills in gaps in Western musical knowledge, as well as provides a vibrant portrait of vital, joyful music being made y those whose lives were anything but joyful.
The London label Zonophone began recording the music of West African immigrants?mainly seamen, but also other menial laborers, with the intention of selling them back in Africa. In some cases, in order to establish themselves in the African market, they also exported record players along with the discs.
The music on ?Living is Hard? runs the gamut from the tribally influenced chant of Isaac Jackson?s ?Nitsi Koko? and Ben Simmons? ?Mu Kun.? Country blues is heard in Harry E. Quashie?s ?Anadwofa.? The call and response of ?Buje? by Domingo Justus reflects the influence of the Christian church on traditional field songs. An interesting sidebar to this story is that one of the first attempts by the label to record West African tunes was made by a Reverend J.J. Ransome-Kuti?none other than the grandfather of African political/funk master Fela Kuti.
Other artists deserving a hearing and a spotlight are George Williams Aingo, The Ga Quartet, and Kumasi Trio, whose ?Asin Asin Part 2? evokes the blues and Caribbean rhythms in a universal story of plaintive, bewildered hope. Price Zulamkah also reaches across the decades with vital beats.
?Living is Hard: West African Music in Britain, 1927-1929? is essential listening. Don?t even think twice; get it. Maybe someone will dig even deeper, not only into this story, but in search of other treasure troves of music by marginalized people, people who, while spending most of their lives in survival mode, never failed to give time, defiant, joyful time, to feeding the soul. 10/10 -- Mike Wood (18 June, 2008)