Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Osibisa: The Pioneers Return

Osibisa Blues & Soul interview
Osibisa Blues & Soul interview Osibisa Blues & Soul interview Osibisa Blues & Soul interview Osibisa Blues & Soul interview

Acknowledged across the world for over half-a-century as "the global godfathers of Afro-Rock", legendary London-based outfit Osibisa make an auspicious return this month with the arrival of their first album with major-label distribution in over 30 years, the appropriately-titled "New Dawn". Which, released on Marquee Records and distributed through Right Track/Universal, poignantly also marks 50 years since they became the first-ever African band to make it at London's iconic Marquee Club.

Indeed, comprising 14 original new songs and co-produced by the group's original keyboard player Robert Bailey and veteran bass-player/lead vocalist Gregg Kofi Brown (alongside engineer Michael Smith), "New Dawn" - already acclaimed as "the strongest, most vibrant Osibisa sound to date, delivering a richer and more eclectic diversity of music than ever before" - sees a now-nine-piece Osibisa blending their signature African vibes with a multi-genre mix of soul, rock, reggae, jazz, calypso and pop through such varied musical moods as "Douala", their upbeat tribute to late Cameroon saxophonist Manu Dibango; the gritty, retro-Eighties rock vibe of the motivational "Adjuwa Aye (Go With The Flow)"; the dreamy jazz/soul balladry of the seductive "Dark Matter"; and the chunkily mid-tempo, smooth "Wake Up".

Formed in London in 1969 by Ghanaian saxophonist/flautist Teddy Osei and with the name emanating from "Osibisaba" (the Fante word for "highlife"), Osibisa's original line-up (alongside Teddy) comprised fellow Ghanaians Mac Tontoh (trumpet) and Sol Amarfio (drums) alongside Nigerian Loughty Lassisi Amao (percussion) plus Trinidadian Robert Bailey (keyboards), Grenadian Spartacus R (bass) and Trinidadian Wendell Richardson (lead vocals/guitar).

With their 1971-released first two albums - "Osibisa" and "Woyaya" - both attaining an impressive Number 11 position on the UK chart in addition to notable chart success in the USA, Australia and Canada, and with the flying elephants depicted on both records' sleeves by progressive rock artist Roger Dean becoming the band's symbol, Osibisa would go on to spend much of the Seventies touring the world and playing to large audiences across North America, Europe, Australia, Japan, India and Africa.

Meanwhile, with the band enjoying further overseas success with ensuing albums such as 1972's "Heads"; 1973's "Superfly T.N.T. Soundtrack" and "Happy Children"; 1974's "Osibirock"; and 1975's "Welcome Home", further career highlights would include British mainstream chart success with the 1976 singles "Sunshine Day" (Number 17) and "Dance The Body Music" (Number 31); prestigiously performing at the Zimbabwean independence celebrations in 1980, and being filmed onstage at London's aforementioned Marquee Club in 1983 for an accompanying well-received video release.

All of which ultimately brings us back to the upcoming release of the above mentioned "New Dawn". As aforementioned veteran, Osibisa member Gregg Kofi Brown hooks up for the first time with "Blues & Soul" Assistant Editor Pete Lewis to discuss his current multi-tasking roles as primary songwriter, co-producer, bass-player and lead vocalist on said new album for this issue's in-depth cover interview.

PETE: What's the story behind Osibisa releasing a new studio album of 14 original songs at this stage in the group's career with you and fellow member Robert Bailey involved as two of the co-producers?

GREGG: "Well, I'd left the group in 2015 to pursue my solo career. But then what happened was the year-before-last I was contacted by management about the possibility of me coming back in to rejoin and lead the band - with the blessing of its founder-leader Teddy Osei - so we could all celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the group's first two albums this year. So basically I said 'Yes, as long as I can rebrand the group and give it a new look and a new energy'. And then with me, in the years after I'd left the group, having worked with Osibisa's original keyboard player Robert Bailey - who I discovered from working with him had been the real musical force behind the band in terms of theory and arrangement but had never got the credit he rightfully deserved for his contribution to the group's original sound - what ultimately happened is that Robert and I ended up becoming co-producers of this whole new record along with the engineer Michael Smith."

You can read more from B&S's interview with Afro-rock pioneers Osibisa, including more inside info on their first studio album in 30-years "New Dawn. We also look back at past members of the band - including founder Teddy Osei - also, we get the low down on the new members of Osibisa, including 2 female members for the first time in the band's 50-years history and we find out what these pioneers thought of their worldwide fame back in the day, all in the latest issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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