Manu Dibango has been churning out his soulful blend of jazz, funk and afrobeat for over half a century, despite in the Western Hemisphere being remembered often simply as a session player in Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, or more likely, not at all. Dibango, arguably the most important saxophone player alive in Cameroon, if not the whole of Africa, deserves more of the recognition that he so aptly received, with the release of O Boso, over forty years ago. His most successful album, released in the middle of his career—he actually has been active since the 50’s—offers a multitude of musical styles that defy easy categorization and a clear time-stamp. Lead single “Soul Makossa” practically invented disco, but looking back at this untarnished masterwork, which introduced the dance mantra “ma-mako, ma-ma-sa, mako-mako ssa” (refrained from Lafayette Afro Rock Band to Michael Jackson to Kanye West, and anyone with a passing interest in shaking a leg), is reflecting on the beginning of modern dance music in the late 20th century. Despite the single’s rarity in the Bronx upon its quiet release, it was a short time before the record went from coveted radio and dancehall gem to being covered by anyone who wanted to keep a beat longer than the then-standard three and a half minutes. The rest of O Boso is equally lasting, despite offering some somber turns in contemplative afro-folk tracks like “Lily” and the unlikely jazz fusion bellwether “Hibiscus”. Dibango has released countless albums, all worth seeking out, but this is the diamond in the rough worth coveting for a musical lifetime. Timeless and peerless, O Boso was a perfect glimpse of bright things to come in propulsive 4/4 time.
Judging by Haircut One Hundred’s relegation to the discount vinyl bin that time forgot, it is easy to place this early 80’s assembly as a new wave also-ran. But revisiting this important debut by an under-appreciated band yields plenty of comforts for someone pining for simpler times of plastic, polyester and bright-eyed optimism. Hardly the stuff of Margaret Thatcher-era England, mind you, but the soaring spirits of these preppy post-teens is far from milquetoast. Compared to the effervescent work of Culture Club and Spandau Ballet—also new wave, new romantic chart runners of the era who deserve more respect than they are now allotted—the first iteration of “the 100” is positively muscular, palpable pop. “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)” could have been titled “Band Meets World” had there been longevity and foresight in the voice and heart of lead Nick Heyward. He is iridescent throughout the track’s take on Talking Heads-style afrotronics, several years before that became a thing with Byrne and cohorts’ Speaking in Tongues. This lead single, followed by the tropical crooner “Love Plus One” and two others, cracked the Top 10 in England, bringing the band brief radio play and prominence. Sadly, Heyward was too big for his Haircut and wool sweater; soon after Pelican West exhausted its singles, he attempted an unsuccessful solo career. Haircut One Hundred had one more album in them (the relatively dull Paint and Paint), but with a new, inexperienced lead, they never quite took off again.
Caught in a pocket of time between sojourns in Miles Davis’ fusion groups and the towering presence of Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin’s Devotion is a pivotal instrumental work. It is also a snapshot of the lyrical guitarist at his most raw and unadulterated. The sunny idealism of the Summer of Love had soured into something more sinister and heavy by this time, and it shows in the prescient licks of this talented session guitarist and expert arranger, with a little bit more sweat and blood than usual. McLaughlin has never had a heavier hand independently before the Devotion sessions, which occasionally elevate the composer and his crack team of musicians to heights later occupied by Mahavishnu. While the latter perfected the push-pull of deft improvisation and beautifully ornate song structure, Devotion is a firm fist in the face that only incites the listener. McLaughlin is coruscating here, and it may be hard to imagine that the rhythmic guitarist of Shakti—McLaughlin’s later Eastern spirituality-driven acoustic side project—could be capable of the horizontal dirge of “Devotion” and “Don’t Let the Dragon Eat Your Mother”, but there was a time when this multifaceted guitar instrumentalist had it in him.