Soul Makossa






Soul Makossa is a ten-track Funk/Afro-Cuban hybrid by the Los Angeles-based and long deceased big band Afrique whose 13 musicians were also recording under the name The Chubukos. Released in 1973 on Mainstream Records, the album is anything but mainstream, at least not during its original release date which coincides with the first cautious blendings of Funk with symphonic structures which then turned to that frilly glitz-blitz genre called Disco. Soul Makossa, however, refrains from being linked to Disco as it sports comparably complex melodies and shattering textures.


An interesting division cuts through the presented material, resulting in interpretations of evergreens and pseudo-classics on side A, with side B being exclusively reserved for all-new cuts written by Funk arranger Richard Fritz. Needless to say that Soul Makossa is not the most cherished album by vintage Exotica fans, and true enough, it is indeed supercharged with spiky organs, screeching guitars and sax blasts… but also delicate bongo blebs and conga coppices as well as various other Latin percussion devices. The band features the talents of three saxophonists Steve Kravitz, Joe Kelso and Paul Jeffrey, the whopping amount of five percussionists Charles Taggart, Chino Valdes, King Errisson, Paul Humphrey and Wallace Snow, guitarists Arthur Wright and David T. Walker, organist and major contributor Charles Kynard, drummer Ray Pounds as well as bassist Chuck Rainey. If one loves Disco intrusions enshrined in pristine Funk amethysts, this is definitely one album to cherish. But how do Exotica or Space-Age fans profit from it, if at all?


Exotic albums about Africa can start in many different ways, most of them alienating both the true fan of World music and ethnomusicologists alike, but here on this album, the eponymous opener Soul Makossa at least tries to enmesh the Funk of Los Angeles with the wide steppes of Africa… and is the only vocal track on an otherwise purely instrumental album. Originally written in 1972 by saxophonist Manu Dibango from Cameroon, the band does not waste any precious time and unleashes the well-oiled Funk guitars right from the get-go, ameliorates them with slick city sax bursts and many cool “Makossa” chants and toasts, even a backing choir is on board. Surprisingly enough, pentatonic horn cascades make it to this critter. Vintage Exotica fans might be offended by the constant level of chants, but these oral devices truly work in the polished surroundings. Bill WithersKissing My Love turns things down a notch as the band presents a slower midtempo prowler with Charles Kynard on a particularly bouncing cosmic organ. The guitars’ wah-wah effect is multiplied, Chuck Rainey’s high bass slaps waft through the tropical heat, and Ray Pounds’ bongo accents keep the rain forest near.


Two tracks into this leftfield Funk classic, and the view through Exotica glasses turns steamy due to the laid-back heat this record emits. In lieu of Exotica tunes, Funk reigns across the lands of Soul Makossa… with a welcome twist coming right up in the shape of Santo & Johnny‘s smash hit Sleepwalk, and granted, it has never been interpreted this way before. While the Farina Bros.’ original from 1959 is undoubtedly timeless – or alternatively way ahead of its time – and excitingly dense, Afrique keep the golden-shimmering guitar aorta of the original, but otherwise transmute the post-modern evergreen in 3/4 time with Joe Kelso’s tenor sax and Steve Kravitz’ baritone next of kin, both of which themselves are illumined by Charles Kynard’s ethereal organ washes. The applied aquatic bubble filter on the saxophone may be gimmicky, but lives up to the frequency-bending techniques of Funk.


Let Me Do My Thing by R&B luminary Frank Brunson follows and injects a new, more uplifting style to the album which could grow into a show tune version if more than three brass players were on board. Cha Cha Cha roots are hidden in this upbeat mélange, Latinized piano sprinkles twirl around Arthur Wright’s and David T. Walker’s guitar interplay, and cautiously clanging percussion instruments leave pristine remnants of galactic rays in this instrumental which is followed by the closer of side A, the gorgeously bongo-driven Slow Motion by Funk and Disco producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. Enchanting with an upper midtempo groove, sun-soaked crunchy guitars, a bustling staccato on these stringed instruments as well as eclectic organ arabesques, Slow Motion is anything but the phenomenon its title suggests.


Side B turns out to be the more valuable one, depending on the listener’s conception of a good album, for this is a side which features new material by the band, with no rendition whatsoever. All of the songs have been written by Richard Fritz, and they usually fathom out more interesting textures. Hot Mud proves exactly that. It is a bog-standard midtempo Funk brute from LA, but with the important inclusion of Charles Kynard’s organ which is delightfully incisive and alkaline, resembling a robotic entity gone wild. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but very iridescent nonetheless.


House Of Funk puts the Brazilian bongos and caixhas into the spotlight in a deliberately dun-colored anacrusis before the luminosity of the polyphonic organ and the spheroidal guitar twangs turns things around, with the percussion runlet remaining important. While Dueling Guitars merges the sunset-colored state of Arizona and its back porch lutes with acidic electric guitar movements and a shapeshifting, accelerated rhythm, Hot Doggin’ is special due to its Rockabilly complexion and the archetypical billow-like Surf Rock formations onto whose adventurous breeze screeching electric guitars are grafted. The finale comes along in the form of Get It and borrows that Rockabilly rhythm, but otherwise relies heavily on sun-soaked guitars and ardored Hammond organ prongs.


Soul Makossa is no Exotica album, not even when Santo & Johnny’s Sleep Walk is interpreted, but as I tend to say apologetically, it is still close enough to the genre’s outer rim to be worth one’s while, although with many restrictions and reservations. The listener has to feel close to the textures and patterns of Funk. Electric guitars there are aplenty, as are wah-wah, bubble filters and steamy organ shards, all of them being elements that are not found in vintage Exotica works, let alone in symphonic compositions. The minimum unit shared by these genres is the Afro-Cuban percussion which graces the entirety of the ten tracks. Be it guiros, caixhas, cowbells, bongos or congas, the percussionists and drummers know how to add rain forests to conrete jungles.


The melodies are not overly catchy, quite a surprise in the given context, but this leads the attention to the textures and, additionally, might enchant a group of listeners that is otherwise not too keen on funky craziness: devoted Jazz listeners. This impression is not spawned out of the blue, but nurtured by the mildly convoluted saxophone spirals and the flurry of interdependencies in each composition. Especially so on side B does the devotion for experiments increase, but one does not necessarily notice this, as the labyrinthine tone sequences are injected into streamlined Rockabilly grooves. If you want Funk with glints of proto-Disco or magnanimously wide panoramas, I cannot help myself but mention Geoff Love’s and Norman Newell’s British Mandingo project for the umpteenth time on AmbientExotica. There, Funk and Exotica meet, mesh and clash in four albums (and one Best Of) from 1972–1975. On Soul Makossa, one better worships, absorbs and expectorates the groove. Available on vinyl, a 2007 Japan-only CD reissue and a download version.


Exotica Review 290: Afrique – Soul Makossa (1973). Originally published on Dec. 7, 2013 at