Oneness of Juju-African Rhythms.

Label: Strut.

After five politically charged years living on the East and West coast of America, bandleader James “Plunky” Branch returned to his home town of Richmond, Virginia, where he formed Oneness of Juju won released their Afro-jazz classic‘African Rhythms’ on the Black Fire label in in 1975. 

Now some forty-three years later Strut have reissued a new edition of African Rhythms. It’s an album that wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for James “Plunky” Branch’s experiences during the first half of the seventies. 

James “Plunky” Branch’s journey began when he enrolled at Columbia University, in New York, where he soon became politically active. This wasn’t unusual at the time, but Columbia University was different and was home many revolutionary political activists, This soon included James “Plunky” Branch.

Before long he was heavily involved in political activities, and  was regularly took over buildings belonging to Columbia University and fought in  the streets with                                                                                       officers from the NYC Police Department. This wasn’t a phase James “Plunky” Branch was going through and he spent three years a revolutionary political activist. Suddenly, though the fighting became all too real

When James “Plunky” Branch received his call up  papers, he did what many of these ‘brave’ revolutionary political activists did  and fled, rather than fight for his country.

James “Plunky” Branch headed ti San Francisco which had a much more liberal political climate. Soon, James “Plunky” Branch was spending time with the Black Panthers, who were sympathetic towards George Jackson and Angela Davis. Meanwhile, James “Plunky” Branch made his debut on the city’s music scene in 1971 and began playing at jam sessions.

That was how James “Plunky” Branch met Ndikho Xaba who asked James “Plunky” Branch to join his band Ndikho and The Natives. Not long after this,  the band were asked to provide the musical backdrop to Resurrections Of The Dead, directed by Marvin X. Its concept was a mixture of African ritual and the teachings of the Nation of Islam and found American being resurrected with a new African-American identity struck a chord with James “Plunky” Branch who became Plunky Nkabinde.

James “Plunky” Branch’s new identity was shaped through the band, as began to campaign for freedom and equality in South Africa. This led  to James “Plunky” Branch and the rest band painting their faces and playing heavy African rhythms and combine this with avant-garde jazz.

The new sound made its debut on the 1972 album Message From Mozambique, which Ju Ju as the band was now named released on Strata East. 

By then, Ju Ju had moved to New York and also spent time in Brooklyn and Harlem, where they were familiar faces on the loft scene. During this period, them met and played alongside Pharaoh Sanders and Ornette Coleman, who invited Ju Ju to stay at his home where they could also record. However, by then money was tight for Ju Ju.

They decided to record their sophomore album Chapter Two which was released by Strata East in 1974. By then, several members of Ju Ju were unhappy by how little they were receiving for their efforts. It was only a matter of time before Ju Ju split-up. 

James “Plunky” Branch returned to Richmond, Virginia, where he decided to focus on the mid-Atlantic preference for Southern R&B and gospel: “Juju had always been blues-based and it was a natural progression to add R&B and dance rhythms. It didn’t change our message.” 

The first African Rhythms sessions took place in early 1975, and was funded by James “Plunky” Branch. However, this was just the start of the African Rhythms sessions.

Two months later, recording began at BIAS Studios, Virginia, with James “Plunky” Branch continuing to fund the album which was produced by Jimmy Gray of Black Fire Records. During the sessions  African Rhythms was recorded:“We wanted a song to dance to with a message–‘you are dancing to African rhythms’” the positive message of ‘Don’t Give Up’ and political commentary on ‘Liberation Dues’.” 

A total of eleven songs found their way onto Oneness of Juju’s debut album African Rhythms which was released by Black Fire in 1975. It was a regional hit on the East coast and particularly in the capital Washington DC specifically. Soon, African Rhythms’ popularity grew and it became an underground album elsewhere in America.

Later, African Rhythms  influenced the early go-go scene in Washington DC. Towards the end of eighties African Rhythms ‘ popularity grew after it became a favourite in the rare groove scene,

Since then, African Rhythms has become a soul-jazz favourite worldwide. African Rhythms is a gene-melting album Oneness of Juju fuse elements of Afrobeat, blues funk, jazz and R&B. In doing so, Oneness of Juju created what’s now regarded as an Afro-jazz classic, African Rhythms.

Oneness of Juju-African Rhythms.

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