Remi Kabaka, a talented musician hailing from Ghana and Nigeria, first arrived in London during the early 1960s. He quickly made a name for himself in the vibrant expat community of Soho, where he frequented clubs like Club Afrique, a meeting place for African bands, London’s creative minds, and avid record collectors. Kabaka’s exceptional skills as a percussionist and keyboard player earned him recognition among the hip circles of the time. In the summer of 1969, he even had the opportunity to perform alongside the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, captivating an estimated crowd of half a million people during an extended rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil.”
During the ’60s, British veterans who had embraced American blues and rock ‘n’ roll were seeking fresh, raw sounds. They found what they were looking for in the captivating rhythms of West African music, including Kabaka’s. He collaborated with renowned artists such as Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, and Paul McCartney and Wings, contributing his talents to the song “Bluebird.” Interestingly, Kabaka recorded his part in London while McCartney embarked on a creative journey to Lagos for the majority of the Band on the Run album.
This impressive body of work convinced Island Records, perhaps searching for another international success story like Bob Marley, to invest in Kabaka’s solo record.
However, when Son of Africa was released in 1976, it faced challenges gaining recognition in a Britain infatuated with reggae and dub. Fortunately, BBE has recently reissued the album, and it remains an exceptional blend of Afro-rock, funk, psych, and soul—a testament to Kabaka’s ability to step out from his role as a session musician and lead his own band.
For the recording of Son of Africa, Kabaka enlisted the talents of his friends, including Winwood, Junior Kerr from the Wailers on guitar, bassist Jerome Rimson (who would later collaborate with Van Morrison), and future Can collaborator Rebop Kwaku Baah on congas, among others. From the very first track, Son of Africa leaves no doubt as to whom the album’s title refers (though it may also allude to an influential British abolitionist group from the 18th century). The eponymous track, “Kabaka,” immerses listeners in the sounds of 1970s Nigeria, with spirited chants of “Kabaka” and “kachunga” (meaning creative and happy), accompanied by dynamic horns and funky guitars. Kabaka passionately sings, “Wake up, do it, the new Afrobeat,” as his drumming drives the rhythm forward. “Wake up, shake it, the funky, funky beat.” When the music is this enjoyable, simplicity in lyrics often proves best.
Son of Africa embodies the polished production values that many Afro-rock records recorded in the UK possessed during that era. Even popular West African artists like the Funkees and Joni Haastrup ventured into British studios, resulting in slightly more refined and palatable sounds for Western ears compared to the raw and fiery recordings they produced in their homeland. “Aqueba Masaaba” showcases disco-era guitars, pristine keys, and a groovy bassline. This sleeker style might not align with the preferences of Lagos purists, but it’s undeniable that Kabaka’s funk-infused tracks exude incredible energy. Just listen to the vibrant and infectious “Meteorite,” a sophisticated funk jam featuring brass solos, skillful drum rolls, and captivating harmonies.
The album also pays homage to the psychedelic funk sounds of 1970s America, embracing the enchanting vibes on tracks like “Sure Thing.”