Tony Scott
African Bird: Come Back! Mother Africa




Actually, this album by Tony Scott is usually filed away under labels like Contemporary Jazz and World Music, but since a lot of exotic instruments – kalimbas, marimbas, bongos etc. – were used for its orchestration, let's just pretend we count African Bird: Come Back! Mother Africa as an Exotica album, which isn't too farfetched anyway. The album is a tribute to Jazz musician Charlie Parker who, in Scott's own words published on his website in February 2001, "is my prophet and in my life is equal to Jesus Christ in religion, Johann Sebastian Bach in classical music, Albert Einstein in theories of time and dimensions of our universe and all others who were supernatural in earth's history." Parker, also known for his nickname Bird, already died in 1955, and yet Tony Scott came up often with tributes and musical honors to his favorite musician of all times. African Bird, however, works equally well when it is detached from Scott's idea of a tribute.


African Bird (Suite) starts with a few short introductory words by Scott himself before marvelous repetitions of short marimba accompaniments set in. In addition to a trombone and Scott's signature instrument – the clarinet –, powerful chants by Jacquie Benar are traversing the 16+ minute suite which keeps its dynamic pace throughout its runtime. As it is usually the case with Scott's works, African Bird (Suite) relies heavily on improvisation and a free, cascading flow of ideas. The whole setup consists, unsurprisingly, of African instruments and musical peculiarities, but these are forced to the back of the mix in the middle of the suite already, when the trombone and the clarinet are playing against each other. The last third, however, luckily focuses on beautiful percussion, echoey flutes and fake noises of Barbary macaques. Finally, Benar's chants continue, this time with audible words related to the album title.


The follow-up, Spirits Return, is a sure favorite of mine, axing both trombone and clarinet most of the time and otherwise relying solely on exotic instruments. The main melody is played by a marimba, while another accompanying marimba is playing nuances repeatedly. The percussion, consisting of bongos, maracas and bass drums, definitely adds to the stripped-down but crystal clear soundscape, akin to the Savannah steppes. A gorgeous song that is also perfectly suited for my favorite avocation, running. Spirits Dance, the third song, is the domain of an African chanter. During his ramblings, quiescent kalimbas and frantic flutes make up for an interesting contrast. The addition of popping bass drums, possibly tom-toms, works equally well in the context of the chants. As usual, Tony Scott does not refuse the opportunity to subjoin with his clarinet.


My absolute favorite of this release, though, is Come Back Mother Africa, the 18+ minute nucleus. It starts with hectically repeated kalimbas and marimbas, a similarly repeated piano that would later be known as an Italian House Piano, and rollicking saxophones and trombones. The aforementioned kalimba/marimba loop is the most successful addition to the song, as it shows its beauty later on when it is played solo after exactly 11 minutes and 30 seconds. The quality of the repetitive instrumentation only becomes evident in this solo that goes on for several minutes, inheriting a hypnotic quality from African Bird (Suite), which featured a similar loop. This is one of the most beautiful repetitions in World Music (or even the Exotica genre) I have ever come by.


The penultimate song African Bird picks up the thread of the eponymous suite and can be seen as a more quiet and soothing encore with quiet percussion, decrescendoing marimbas and Scott's intensive clarinet. The song ends with short piano tercets, quite a surprise and a nonrecurring use of this instrument. The final Requiem For Lost Spirits is a let-down to my ears, considering the former exotic mood the album masterfully accomplished. However, from an artistic viewpoint, this requiem of course has its powerful meaning, as Scott plays a clarinet solo without the addition of any disturbing element in order to honor the dead. Quite a bizarre counterpoint to the previously dynamic and beautifully orchestrated songs, so be aware of this.


This is an interesting album for fans of Exotica music, but its African spirit (sic!) is immense, and the addition of trombones and clarinets might cause you to furrow your brows. However, if you aren't focused on faux Polynesian, Asian, Hollywood-based or real Hawaiian Exotica music, then you could consider this album to be a gem, for it was not created to please the Easy Listening mood of its audience, but for a more high-grade reason, namely as a serious dedication to the music of Charlie Parker that is nonetheless playful and blithe. Fans of kalimbas and marimbas should snap this album anyway. Everyone else should pre-listen, especially to Spirits Return and Come Back Mother Africa which rely less on classical Jazz instruments and more on their exotic foils.


Further reading:

The Official Tony Scott Website features an entry of African Bird with added liner notes off the original release.


Exotica Review 014: Tony Scott – African Bird: Come Back! Mother Africa (1984). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2011 at