OSIBISA means Criss-Cross rhythms that explode with happiness, and what a precise name, the first thing that anybody who listens this band admires is the fantastic rhythm section, combining drums and bass with tribal percussion instruments in a delightful way, even Uriah Heep couldn’t resist the chance to add their percussion to the song Look at Yourself.
But if this was their only particularity, they wouldn’t be added to Prog Archives, this group of talented African and Caribbean musicians blend African chants with Psychedelia in the most incredible and skilled way, long before the term World Music was coined, it’s so well crafted that nothing sounds artificial, the music flows from start to end with joy for live and sadness of centuries of oppression and adding a spectacular show on stage.
The story of OSIBISA starts in London in 1969, when three musicians from Ghana ( Teddy Osei on the Sax, Sol Amarfio on the drums and Mac Tontoh on the trumpet); join Spartacus R from Grenada who played the bass and complemented perfectly the African percussion, Roger Bayle from Trinidad and Tobago on the keyboards and Wendel Richardson from Antigua on the lead guitar.
Very soon they found another member, Asisi Amao from Nigeria who added extra percussion plus tenor Sax. and in that moment OSIBISA was born.
During the next two years they were preparing their first album but in 1970 they released their first and very successful single: “Music for Gong Gong” that caught attention from all the world.
In 1971 they release the fantastic “Osibisa” with an extremely beautiful art cover by a young painter named Roger Dean.
From the beginning this album broke schemes, the opener “The Dawn” starts as a tribal ceremony to receive the day with complex percussion surrounded by birds and sounds you could easily listen in central Africa, but soon the vocals and instruments prove us that they were incredibly talented to blend different influences that go from, Hendrix, Santana, Bob Marley, R&B, Jazz and all the British Psychedelia they listened and assimilated during the years they were in England, this capacity to blend styles supposedly incompatible is what took them close to Progressive Rock.
But my favorite song from this album is Ayko Bya, a total tribal chant with an amazing organ to perfectly backup the contrapuntist vocals between two singers as if they were in a contest trying to get more complex than it’s predecessor , simply amazing. The success was instantaneous, the offers and invitations came from all the world, from Psychedelic to Jazz festivals, but this guys took the music seriously.
The second OSIBISA album “Woyaya” was released in the same year and marked a change in their music, even when they kept the tribal sound and complex percussion they started to experiment with the organ, this album reaches their peak in the title song that closes the album an incredibly beautiful nostalgic chant “We are going, Heaven knows where we are going” surrounded by an atmospheric and psychedelic organ, extremely beautiful song.
In 1972 they release their most successful album “Heads”, mostly because of the legendary song “Che Che Kule”, this album marked the end of their Psychedelic/Proto Prog career, but still is a great album that deserves to be listened.
Their career continues with high and low points until the 21st Century but turning more and more commercial with the pass of the years, but still today they are icons in Ghana, where they’ve been awarded by former President Jerry J Rowlings.
Now the real question is where to include them, clearly they were a Psychedelic band but it’s undeniable that they have also evident Folk African roots and were part of the Proto Prog Movement in Africa, which as we know arrived later than in other continents, so to be precise I will have to include them in the Various Genres section.