Lumumba s/t LP (A&M, 1974)

American major labels have always had a difficult relationship with African music. While the majors flooded the market with Miriam Makeba, Olatunji, and Hugh Masekela, monumentally important artists such as Fela Kuti were ignored (the closest Fela got to a proper American release was a few on Celluloid, the French label with a New York branch, as well as a few under Ginger Baker's name). King Sunny Ade saw some US releases but that was after two decades of releasing records in Africa and on American indies and major subsidiaries. And then there are a few oddballs and one-offs that puzzle me. Manu DiBango's Soul Makossa and Makossa Man, Buari's self titled album, and, today's pickings, Lumumba's debut are a few that defy explanation. Yeah, sure they have good songs on them, but why Soul Makossa and not Fela's Expensive Shit? (Okay, I know why.)

I don't know the story behind Lumumba. All the musicians except for two are credited as coming from Ghana (the two non-Africans, West Indies and Los Angeles). Though the group is named after the singer Lumumba, it seems as though a fellow named Rim Kwaku Obeng is the leader of the band. Obeng has records under his own name and they are sought after by Afrobeat collectors. The record was recorded in Los Angeles, which is rare for an Afrobeat record. How is the album? Spotty and sometimes suspect. I am not sure if the musicians were cobbled together by A&M looking to break Afrobeat or if some American producer stumbled upon them in Africa, brought them to the States and put them in a fancy studio. Many of the songs are over produced and some sound very studio musicianish. The two I donate today are the best two cuts, both featuring the borderline schmaltzy poetry of Lumumba.

I agree that Fela's lack of penetration in the US was criminal, but I've got to admit having a soft spot for "Soul Makossa." It's shitloads better than most of what hits the Top 40.
Oh oh I have no argument with Soul Makossa nor with Pata Pata by Makeba. Both received airplay and plenty of push in the States and both are good songs. What is mind boggling to me is that there seems to be absolutely no logic in what got pushed and what didn't. Usually the majors work with such a tight formula you can figure trends out without much thought. With African music their approach is so random. Take Sunny Ade and Lumumba. Ade had been releasing records since at least '67, had a huge following in Africa, and a very accessable sound; yet only indies released his stuff in the US. Lumumba pretty much (as far as I know) came out of nowhere and BAM! they are on A&M. Doesn't make sense.
This may be the same as Duke Lumumba, who cut a good album of jazzy afro-beat for Capitol in the late '60s (entitled Jungle Funk).
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