Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Simigwa on Yo' Ass

My love for African funk began way back when I was a precocious thirteen year old, partially thanks to the NJ Transit bus system and the punk explosion happening in 1976–77. I lived ten miles from New Brunswick, New Jersey, and in that college town Back In the Day resided one of the best record stores one could have imagined: Cheap Thrills. I learned of its existence thanks to the kickass owners of another store in nearer East Brunswick, the Record Setter, where I biked it Saturdays (and also once a week during schools-out summers). Record Setter was where I discovered Patti Smith (thanks to the alluring cover of her debut album), Television (thanks to the weird cover of their debut album!), and everything happening in the UK, especially Stiff Records and my one-time savior, Elvis Costello. The owners of the Record Setter pointed me to Cheap Thrills* in New Brunswick and suggested I keep my jaw from dropping too far.

With my dad's help, I found out there was a nearby bus stop that could take me within steps of this magical place, and from my first visit it became for me (and, a few years later, my like-minded friends) one of the main havens for all things music in our lives.

Cheap Thrills had an outrageous selection of import vinyl, in large part thanks to the preeminent record importer of the day, Jem. And oh, what a layout this place had—racks and racks of facing-out bins so you could see cover art easily. It was around 1978 when, while doing my usual walk around the bins, I spied the cover of a record that not only had a great title but had titties too! Expensive Shit, by Fela and Africa 70. (Give it a Google.) How could I resist? Thus began my obsession not only with Fela but with African music in general. By the time I got to seventeen, I had to be the youngest, whitest boy in America with the most kickass collection of African LPs.

I owned an original copy of this album, purchased solely for the wacky cover. And what a teenage-mind-blowing album! Sadly, my copy was sold off in one of my have-to-pay-the-rent purges in the early 1990s, living in Brooklyn on my own with a low-paying publishing job and a refusal to share my apartment with anyone. Clean copies on eBay have sold for hundreds of dollars (when they show up), and it was an album (out of hundreds!) that I vowed one day to own again. Academy Records saved my bank account further damage this year with its rerelease. This very special record brings smiles to faces and shaking to booties. It's one of the greatest African funk albums ever created.

* I would eventually also discover the beautifully esoteric Music in a Different Kitchen, and combo record/video store Flamin' Groovies.

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