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by Chuck Eddy

August 26, 2013

Disco 101: Afro-Caribbean

by Chuck Eddy  |  August 26, 2013

Discos happened before disco records did. So in 1970, at a nightclub like the Sanctuary in New York, a DJ like Francis Grasso had to make do: He’d spin James Brown, Stax and Motown soul, heavy funk-rock from Rare Earth, and -- maybe most intriguingly -- African and Caribbean sounds from people like the New York-based, Nigerian-born drummer Babatunde Olatunji and the London-based Ghanan/Nigerian/Trinidadian/Antiguan/Grenadan septet Osibisa. Santana had grabbed their first small hit in 1969 with “Jingo,” a cover of Olatunji’s then decade-old “Jin-Go-La-Ba”; Santana’s rendition also made Grasso’s Sanctuary setlist, which is reproduced in Tim Lawrence’s ‘70s dance music history Love Saves the Day. Among the extensive 15-page discography of ‘70s club hits in the back of that book are a smattering of other songs interpolating Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms, several of which serve as the foundation of this mix.

Many selections, like those named above, predate disco proper: Spanish Harlem-born boogaloo master Joe Bataan’s “Latin Strut”; “Funky Nassau” by Bahamian quartet Beginning of the End; “Soul Makossa” from Cameroonian sax player Manu Dibango; a track from Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin’s 1958 Congolese high mass Missa Luba; songs by cross-cultural European ensembles Barrabas, Chakachas, The Equals and Cymande. The Belgian-recorded African band Black Blood and France-based Lafayette Afro-Rock Band got early disco play as well. Even after disco vinyl started coming out -- and Eurodisco artists such as Cerrone, in his early band Kongas, started exploring tropical beats themselves -- DJs had no qualms about going far afield for global rhythms: Lawrence’s appendix lists '70s songs from Brazil’s Sérgio Mendes and the Cuban percussionist Candido Camero (doing his own version of “Jingo,” a landmark in the pre-history of house music) and even Talking Heads’ 1979 “I Zimbra.” All of these cuts can be heard on this playlist, along with others carrying the groove into the early '80s.

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