Various Living Is Hard: West African Music In Britain 1927-1929

Increasingly we have seen releases from labels like Sublime Frequencies, Yaala Yaala and Terp that challenge and complicate notions of world music. This recent disc from Honest Jon’s epitomizes this trend by presenting a collection of early underground music steeped in West African radicalism. While ’20s white Brits flirted with the exotic sounds of jazz and ragtime, this music being produced amongst West Africans in/under Britain failed to register on the colonialist radar, and it’s not hard to see why. While some of these songs have a deadpan melancholy, or hints of rhythmic vitality, they are devoid of the sonic markers that are still called upon to define black music today. Those digging for the suffering of the blues, or tribal rhythms, may be sorely disappointed. Instead, dark hued instrumentation and plangent vocals infuse many of the stark vignettes with a remote, even ghostly quality. There are even odd moments of rugged experimentalism. This was a folk music from, and for, a community, and the rarefied sound world it occupies reflects this. The clarity of the remastering takes the recordings up to present-day standards. Ironic, as their relevance to the music industry hasn’t aged that much in the past 80 odd years. (Honest Jon's)