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VA - African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s (2008)

The subtitle here, intriguing as it is, isn't completely accurate, since the emphasis is actually more on soul and funk than raw garage rock and psychedelia. Indeed, there's a strongJames Brown fixation for many artists here, and Roger Damawuzen should have won an award (or a lawsuit) for his uncanny imitation of the Godfather of Soul. It does get a little wild at times, as with "Congolaise Benin Ye" from Le Super Borgou de Parakou, but one thing that never falters here is the groove. Once a band latches onto it, they don't let go, keeping it rock-solid, but with plenty of polyrhythms happening as part of it, giving it a wonderful, flexible feeling. There's no a bad cut here, and it's obvious that this is the result of a labor of love -- the result of two-and-a-half years work and nine trips to the countries. It may be the Francophone influence that steers the musicians away from the more obvious English and American rock sounds, although you can definitely hear the Afro-Latin percussion of Santana in the mix (and the fiery guitar work, too, at times). But whatever the artists are doing, they thankfully never try to ditch their Afro roots -- which, of course, are the bedrock of soul and rock. This all takes it in another, fabulous direction. In many ways it proved to be a bit of a dead end historically, but the music that came out of it is nothing less than sublime. And keep the player going after the last track for the hidden bonus. It's worthwhile. (Chris Nickson)

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