V/A: ONENESS OF JUJU ‘African Rhythms 1970-82’ 2CD


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Oneness of Juju’s classic African Rhythms is a bold concoction of Afrobeat, soul, jazz, and funk, held together by an undeniable sense of cool. Originally released on the Black Fire label in 1975, the album was first reissued by Strut in 2002. Now, the label has reawakened African Rhythms with a new edition that comes with two additional cuts, “African Rhythms (45 Version Parts 1 and 2)” and “Afrobeat.” Led by James “Plunky” Branch, a brilliant musician and activist, the New York band forged a riotous set with a power that refuses to wane.  Branch’s bustling arrangements have so many moving parts, yet they glide along smooth as silk, while the lyrics on tracks such as “Don’t Give Up” and “Liberation Dues” preach freedom, truth, and self-empowerment. It adds up to a set that enthralls 40 years after it sashayed out of the big city  and documents a crucial chapter in the history of Black American music and the movements it soundtracked..

For much of the COVID-19 quarantine, James “Plunky Nkabinde” Branch—the saxophone- and flute-playing founder/leader of the Oneness of Juju,  has been performing 10-minute concerts every evening from the front porch of his Richmond, Virginia home. What started as a familiar salute to essential workers of Plunky’s hometown has become a nightly meditation on global kinship. As the Black Lives Matter protests began to be felt especially strongly in Richmond, with its avenue of Confederate monuments, Plunky’s nightly repertoire has come to feature Oneness funk originals such as 1980’s “Make a Change,” which resonates acutely in a year when radical reconsideration has become central to public discourse.