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Reissues spotlight the Afro-soul of Joni Haastrup's Monomono

November 10, 2011 | 12:23 pm

Joni Haastrup

When it comes to Nigerian music, the average American obsessive knows at least two musicians: Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. Generally speaking, African music rarely crosses over to American antennas, and when it does, it tends to be white musicians appropriating African traditions (Vampire Weekend) or transcontinental collaborations (Paul Simon, whatever Coldplay is doing this year), to say nothing against the merits of any of those artists.

Joni Haastrup, however, is a third name that should be added to the conversation. The frontman of Nigerian band Monomono, Haastrup was an Afro-beat sensation through most of the '70s, but until a few months ago, information on him was scarce in America.

Even the encyclopedic All Music Guide lacked a biography of the band, this despite it having cut an album for Capitol/EMI. That changed this month, with Soundway Records (U.K.) and Tummy Touch reissuing Monomono's "The Dawn of Awareness" and "Give the Beggar a Chance," as well as Haastrup's "Wake Up Your Mind."

The reissue angle markets Haastrup as Kuti's rival, and when you listen to his trio of classic records, it's not hard to understand why. He is one of the few who could give Fela a run for his naira. Unsurprisingly, they display a direct exchange of ideas with Kuti, who had previously employed Monomono co-founder Friday Jumbo as a conguero. Not to mention, there was a brief stint in 1966 when Haastrup and a then-unknown Kuti were in the same band. 

But the rivalry was at least outwardly friendly, with one of the Monomono album covers even saying, “Thanks to brother Fela, for the little hint that did a good job.” This is no second-rate imitation.  Monomono was equally ferocious and funky, adding a pop sensibility to the equation.

Anyone who likes Afro-beat will want a listen. Haastrup's vocals scrape the stars, the organ lines are liquid, and the sax riffs could convince you of something supernatural spiking the Lagos water supply. All three reissues are excellent and can't be endorsed enough.

Tonight at Zanzibar's Afro Funke night, Jeremy Sole and company will be DJing in celebration of the release. Haastrup, 63, and living in Oakland, will not be there. But things will remain funky regardless.


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 -- Jeff Weiss

Photo: Joni Haastrup. Credit: Tummy Touch