Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Godwin Kabaka Opara's Oriental Brothers International [extended]

  • Heavy on the Highlife! [Original Music, 1990] A
  • Do Better If You Can/Onye Ikekwere Mekeya [Original Music, 1995] A-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Oriental Brothers International: Heavy on the Highlife! [Original Music, 1990]
The six selections on this 67-minute best-of are attributed to three artists, but I say they're all the Oriental Brothers, so called because they're from eastern Nigeria--the biggest stars of what was once Biafra, where Yoruba juju somehow never caught on. With the polite Ghanaian horn sections that lace through the accompanying Giants of Danceband Highlife as passe as colonialism by the time the war was over, Sir Warrior Opara, Dan Satch Opara, and Godwin Kabaka Opara went for a wild Afropop that combined indigenous guitar hooks with the putatively Zairean rhythms then sweeping the continent. Unlike the Ibo hits preserved on Vertigo's long-lost African Music comp, the four-minute 1973-1974 songs are gentle and charming only in comparison to the 18-minute mid-'80s tours de force that follow. Natural soul disco from the heart of Africa, they don't relent until they fade into forever. Listening rather than dancing, your attention may wander for a minute or two, but whenever you tune back in, Dan Satch is coming at the guitar beat from yet another angle, or Sir Warrior is shouting out yet another variation on an eternal theme that transcends whatever tribal truism translation might provide--a confluence of body and spirit you wish touched those who would impoverish either, which always means both. A

Do Better If You Can/Onye Ikekwere Mekeya [Original Music, 1995]
Vocal strongman Warrior Opara and guitar heavy Dan Satch Opara carried the burden of Heavy on the Highlife!, John Storm Roberts's 1991 introduction to the Oriental Brothers, who are more a brand name than a verifiable cohort of musicians. Although third brother Kabaka was the first to break away from the original group, his gift would appear to be mediation--between the band's Ibo loyalties and its continental ambitions, its quiet youth and its jamming maturity. These five lively six-to-17-minute tracks are so sweetly indefatigable that their duration defines them--not polite enough for highlife, they seem almost like juju with a steadier pulse, or soukous with a less flamboyant bottom. Kabaka's guitar invokes both alien styles. A-