Cult Classic: Shina Willians and His African Percussionists-African Dances.

By 1979, Afrobeat had grown in popularity in Nigeria, and was influencing and inspiring a number of Western musicians including the legendary vibes  player Roy Ayers. He was just one of many musicians who had started to incorporate elements of Afrobeat into his unique and inimitable sound. No longer was it just Western musicians who were influencing their African counterparts like Shina Willians. 

It was  a two-way street, with African and Western musicians  listening to the latest music and using it to inspire their music. One of these albums was Shina Willians and His African Percussionists’ album African Dances, which issued in 1979.

At this time, a  musical revolution was taking  place in Ghana with musicians combining elements of West African musical genres including highlife and fuji music with American funk and jazz. Playing an important part important part in this new genre which later, became known as Afrobeat, were chanted vocals, percussion and complicated converging rhythms. The result was an irresistible, potent and heady musical brew that later, spread across West Africa.

By the early seventies, Fela Kuti and his band had just returned to Nigeria after a brief stay in America, where they had hurriedly recorded what later became The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions. The album had been recorded quickly, as a promoter had informed the Immigration and Naturalization Service that Fela Kuti and his band had no work permit. Fela Kuti was tipped off that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was about to swoop, and decided to head home to Nigeria.

When Fela Kuti and his band arrived back in Lagos, Nigeria, he decided to rename his group The Afrika ’70. Fela Kuti’s next move was to found the Kalakuta Republic, which was a commune which soon, became home to the many people connected to The Afrika ’70. It also meant that Fela Kuti and The Afrika ’70 were always ready to practise and record music.

Within the Kalakuta Republic was a recording studio where Fela Kuti and The Afrika ’70 could work. By then, Fela Kuti was writing song were the lyrical themes ranged from love right through to the various social issues affecting Nigeria. Despite his concern for his fellow Nigerians, Fela Kuti, who was the leader of Kalakuta Republic, declared independent from the Nigerian State. That was still to come.

Having established the Kalakuta Republic, Fela Kuti and The Afrika ’70 began experimenting musically. They regularly  incorporated disparate musical genres into their This new sound was innovative, and also proved to be influential, when Fela Kuti established a new club that he called Afrika Shine.

That was where Fela Kuti and The Afrika ’70 first introduced Afrobeat to Nigeria in 1970. Between 1970 and 1975, Fela Kuti and The Afrika ’70 had a residency at Afrika Shine, in Lagos, and people from all over Nigeria flocked to the club. This included many Nigerian musicians who were inspired by Fela Kuti and The Afrika ’70.

Even after Fela Kuti and The Afrika ’70 completed their five-year residency at Afrika Shine, their music was inspirational. So was the music of the Afrobeat pioneers in Nigeria. It would influence and inspire the next generation of musician including Shina Willians.

By 1979, bandleader, percussionist and vocalist Shina Willians was already an experienced and talented musician when he began work on the album that eventually became African Dances. To record his debut album he brought onboard the creme de la creme of Nigerian musicians.

This included Biddy Wright, Fred Fisher, Prince Bolam, Saliu Alabi and Tutu Shoronmu, Tunde Willimas who were joined by some of Nigeria session player and musicians. The members of this all-stat had backed and played alongside everyone from Fela Kuti, SJOB Movement, Sonny Okoson and King Bucknor. These musicians were christened as Shina Willians and His African Percussionists as they entered Phonodisk Studio, a twenty-four track studio in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun, Nigeria.

That was where Cunny Jam Wayo, Agboju Logun and Gboro Mi Ro, which were recorded by Shina Willians and His African Percussionists and became African Dances. It featured three timeless genre-melting songs where Shina Willians and His African Percussionists fuse elements of Afrobeat, boogie, disco, electronica and even a hint of psychedelia and soul on what was an ambitious album of groundbreaking and genre-melting music.

This includes the album opener Cunny Jam Wayo which features a rueful, emotive vocal as harmonies, hypnotic and jazz-tinged horns play. Meanwhile, the rhythm section and percussion lock down a groove where Afrobeat and funk combine, on a track that sometimes sounds as if it’s from a lost Blaxploitation film. 

The centrepiece to African Dances was the eleven minute disco classic Agboju Logun. It’s best described as call to dance as where dancers give thanks to the disco gods. As they do, the psychedelic sound of taking drums, a mesmeric bass combine with searing guitars, chanted vocals and the fattest of horns. Adding finishing touches is a peerless synth part of Shina Willians and His African Percussionist’s Magnus Opus.

This leaves Gboro Mi Ro which closes African Dances. It gradually unfolds with elements of Afrobeat and funk combining with soulful harmonies and Shina Willians’ impassioned vocal. Blazing drums, pounding drums and crashing cymbals are added to this mesmeric and irresistible musical stew which closes African Dances on a high.

Despite the quality of music on African Dances, Shina Willians and His African Percussionist’s debut album wasn’t a hugely successful album when it was released in 1979 by Phonodisk. African Dances sold steadily but wasn’t the success they had hoped.

That was a great shame as African Dances veered between a feegood sound to joyous, uplifting and irresistible to beautiful, soulful and dancefloor friendly. The members of Shina Willians and His African Percussionist’s had combined the best of American and American music, and in doing so, created an album that was funky, melodic, memorable and guaranteed to get any party started. Sadly, it was a case of what might have been for Shina Willians and His African Percussionist

If only record buyers had given Shina Willians and His African Percussionist’s cult classic a chance, they would’ve discovered an album full of floorfillers that is akin to an irresistible call to dance.

Cult Classic: Shina Willians and His African Percussionists-African Dances.





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