Album Reviews

Various – Marvellous Boy: Calypso From West Africa

(Honest Jons) UK release date: 13 April 2009

Fans of cross-cultural pollination have good reason to rejoice at the arrival of this impressive compilation from Honest Jons. Marvellous Boy successfully marries West Indian calypso with its distant relation afrobeat. The result is a joyous treasure trove of lively archive recordings.

Calypso as a musical form is usually an extremely happy one. There is no doom and gloom to be found here amongst the swaying. It might not be the coolest of music forms, but the simplicity of the genre enables the artists’ enjoyment to emerge as an infectious listen.

These 18 tracks span from the late ’40s to the ’60s, covering musical terrain from Sierra Leone to Ghana and Nigeria. In the days of heavily produced music sequenced in umpteen-track studios, the archive nature of these tracks is refreshingly simple. Presumably done in one take and aged by the sonic hisses and crackles of time, they feel immediately, enjoyably timeless.

The curators have deliberately chosen tracks which form a very African take on the genre. Rather than plumping for covers of well known calypso songs, the African take evident in the lyrics combines everyday life, love and folklore in the continent.

Standout tracks include the excellent Dick Tiger’s Victory, which celebrates the middleweight championship victory between the eponymous Nigerian boxer and a reigning American champ. You can’t help but cheer inside at the knockout lyric: “The whole of Nigeria was awake for the title fight, and Tiger knew this before – so he battered the American!”

Elsewhere, Nylon Dress proves that the simplest way to a woman heart is to buy her nice clothes (if only). The mixture of local language and dialect adds authenticity to the tracks, taking you from celebrations to lows lamenting the day to day struggle of making ends meet.

So Marvellous Boy is highly recommended, whether you’re into that nebulous term “world music” or just on the lookout for something a little different. If your understanding of Calypso barely scratches the surface, you’ll find this collection of easy going and joyously created rhythms still making you smile. Marvellous Boy is just that: Marvellous.

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