I dropped some bucks on this album quite some time ago and went into the whole listening experience with some extremely narrow expectations based solely on the album’s title, the cover and a picture of Orlando Julius sitting with James Brown on the inside. Upon first listen, I found myself disappointed due to my perceived the lack of “soul” in the music. The James Brown threw me off.
Jagua Nana – Orlando Julius & His Modern Aces
Ise Owo – Orlando Julius and His Modern Aces
This album immediately registers more as Afrobeat than any form of soul on my radar. I have to confess that my World Music cache is quite unimpressive. To be perfect honest, besides the random gems/jams in my catalogue, the only African musician that I am really familiar with is Fela Kuti. With that in mind I thought it might be helpful for me to use Kuti as a comparison specimen until I began to deconstruct what I was actually listening to and realized that I was being too literal for my own enjoyment.
My ear looks to recognize genre from an American perspective and I think I sometimes miss the nuances and just focus on the traditional, polyrhythmic percussion whose roots are traced back to West Africa. This album was released in 1966 in Lagos, Nigeria five years after both Nigeria and Ghana were granted their independence from Britain. Literally, what you’re hearing is liberation music but technically what you are hearing is the lovechild of two different influences.
The first is a branch of Nigerian music called Highlife, supposedly West Africa’s first popular music genre. This genre is most identifiable by it’s guitar-based sound that Africanizes the European-influenced society bands and military marching bands. The next influence comes from the traditional worship music which incorporated ‘kokoma’ beats. An anecdote about Orlando Julius paints him following priests and worshippers around to their performances to observe and later mimic their music.
In 1964, Julius formed the Modern Aces and released their first single “Jagua Nana” the following year. When the soul from the States began invading the airwaves acts like Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding and the rosters of influential labels like Motown, Atlantic and Stax began being incorporated into Julius’ sound.
Overall, it’s an interesting listen with mild echoes of recognizable elements of American soul music but is obviously more closely linked with more traditional West African sounds. Definitely worth a listen.