Compelled as I am to write about the up and coming and new, I’m conscious that sometimes those who’ve been around the block a few times might get less of a look-in. And this is a shame when there are bands such as Osibisa who’ve been in existence, on and off, for more than fifty years. Yes, their membership has morphed and their success has gone through peaks and troughs but, with a new album, New Dawn, out and creating waves in the last week, it feels like an opportune time to publish a piece about the iconic Ghanaian Afro/rock band.
You might think you don’t know of Osibisa but I’d hazard a guess that you’ll be aware of their hits. Sunshine Day, a top twenty hit in the UK from the 1970’s, still glistens with sparkling warmth. I defy anybody not to break out in a broad smile whilst wiggling their toes if they hear a blast of this summer soundtrack coming through their stereo. It’s music that gives you a cuddle and we all need that right now, right?
The new material is crafted from the same block. The founding father of Osibisa, Teddy Osei, now steers the ship as a hands-on director but his health doesn’t allow him to perform live with the band. Younger guns, still with many years of Osibisa experience under their belts, have pulled the new album together. Written predominantly by Robert Bailey (an original member of Osibisa) and Gregg Kofi Brown (who has 4 decades of involvement), this isn’t a set of upstarts upsetting the apple cart. The vintage shines through on ‘New Dawn’ and the criss-cross rhythms still explode with happiness.
The lead single from ‘New Dawn’, ‘Douala’, is a celebration of life, a jab of joy in these tough times. It’s a tribute to Manu Dibango, the legendary musician from Cameroon, who passed away after a battle with Covid last year. (I feel another blog post coming on). But it’s also inspired by ex Osibisa bassist, Jean Dikoto Mandengue. Douala was Jean’s home town. “His vibrant humour and personality resonated strongly“, say the band.
I’m told that live shows and big news is on the way. “Lawyers have given me a gagging order for now“, say the PR company when I enquire. I’ll go out of my way to see Osibisa in a festival field this summer. My dancing will be off-the-scale and my smile broad and beaming. You don’t realise how much something is missed until it’s gone (temporarily).
It’s always good to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and to embrace new things. As the years advance, it’s one way to stop yourself getting staid or stuck in your ways. There’s so much to discover in this wonderful world and precious little time to find out about it all. Why settle with what you know when around the corner there might be something that can give you even more joy and happiness – as long as you go into it with eyes wide open?
That is, of course, so true when listening to music. Our tastes are formed young and we keep returning to those tracks of our youth (and songs that sound like them) because of their familiarity. They offer us comfort and it’s easy to see why they might provide our go-to moments.
Sometimes, I like to shake up my listening. I’ll deliberately find tracks from genres that I know next to nothing about and dig into what I find. To a degree, this is how I stumbled upon ‘Batwanes Beek’ by Rime Salmi. I’m very glad I did. A cover of an ‘Arabic classic’ by Warda, Rime has turned the tune into her very own Afro-pop anthem.
In my ignorance, I know very little about ‘Arabic classics’ or Warda who first released this song. But the internet is such a rich encyclopaedia and Wikipedia such an extensive resource that things don’t stay mysteries for long.
Warda, the Algerian Rose, was born in Paris to a Lebanese mother and an Algerian father. Her father owned a nightclub and encouraged her to sing patriotic Algerian songs from a young age. A ten year break from singing (her first husband forbade her to) was broken in 1972 when she sang to commemorate Algeria’s independence. After divorcing her grumpy husband, she married again and her career blossomed. She cooked with wine and became something of a superstar commanding a state funeral when she passed away in 2012 aged 73. Warda sounds like she lived a full life of pushing out of her comfort zone.
Rime Salmi was born in Morocco but raised in Canada. For Rime, it’s clearly very important to both embrace the culture she comes from as well as the one she has grown up in. What we get in this version of ‘Batwanes Beek’ is a vibrant explosion of happy sound. It’s hard not to smile when listening to the spirited joy on offer here – and we all need to smile more now than ever.
And then there is the video that features Rime and three well-known dancers from Montreal’s LGBTQ scene proudly using the city as an urban catwalk. Rime sums it up better than I ever could when she says that “this video is a scream. This video is a statement. This video is a manifesto. Arab LGBTQ+ people exist, love and love one another… and it’s something to celebrate.”
Happy hump day – keep being curious.