Vinyl Corner : Various ‘Afro-Beat Airways’

Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For today’s instalment, we’re taking an in-depth look at a newly reissued favourite from reissue label Analog Africa.

The Music:

In the case of any label in possession of a back catalogue as esteemed as Analog Africa’s, it’s more important than ever in this age of booming demand for vinyl to keep sought-after titles available at reasonable prices. A greater number than ever of rare releases are fetching eye-watering sums on websites including eBay and discogs and, though many may imagine that such princely ransoms are reserved for vintage rarities from decades long-gone, it’s just as often the case that titles released in limited numbers within the last decade or so are earning those kind of prices. This can be said of certain releases from German archival/reissue label Analog Africa, whose sizeable discography of justifiably lauded compilations of vintage rarities has to its name more than a few considerable rarities. As last year’s first-time vinyl pressing of their fan-favourite release ‘Take One’ from the influential Hallelujah Chicken Run Band (reviewed here for Vinyl Corner) proved, Analog Africa are more than aware of the demand for new wax pressings of their earlier offerings. As such, it only seems appropriate that 2010’s highly-esteemed ‘Afro-Beat Airways’ should now reappear on vinyl over a decade on from its original release. Long out of print on vinyl, the compilation – which brings together numerous cuts recorded in Ghana and Togo during the ’70s – has been made available once more, much to the relief of those collectors who found the original pressing’s £50+ secondary-market value off-putting. Its re-emergence is timely in other senses, as well; with Analog Africa as prolific and popular as ever, this selection’s reappearance only serves to accentuate the consistency of the label’s output across the full breadth of their existence. A thrilling collection of limber, ever-zesty compositions performed with the ready agility of musicians primed and eager to forge a name for themselves, the numerous bands and artists heard here stand tall alongside even the best of those highlighted by the label on their other releases.

The Pressing:

Regular readers of Vinyl Corner are likely to know the drill by now when it comes to releases from Analog Africa; we’ve reviewed so many of them over the past few years – and been so unilaterally impressed with all of them – that it should in no way come as a surprise that this latest pressing of ‘Afro-Beat Airways’ is as impressive a release as any they have to their name. Pressed by Germany’s dependably popular Optimal Media GmbH, these two mid-weight slabs of wax sit flat and warp-free upon the platter during playback and likewise boast shining surfaces free of the visual imperfections which too often appear as blemishes upon even brand-new releases from credible labels. The audio is every bit as impressive as the precedent set by the visuals; in the case of our example, both albums are free of any audible surface noise and are replete with low noise floors which complement the compilation’s crisp, clear sonics well. Indeed, the mastering here is as impressive as on any other title we’ve heard from Analog Africa; the bass is strong – though never overpowering – throughout all the tracks on offer here, standing out from the often deft rhythm guitar work heard on many of these songs by virtue of the latter’s snappy sonic immediacy. The vocals are likewise clear and, even on the few tracks where the microphones are overloaded by the sheer gusto of the singer in question, such a quality only lends a charming analogue crunch to proceedings.

The Packaging:

Those familiar with Analog Africa’s output will likely be aware of their excellent presentation and the evident care with which they package their releases. Though many of the label’s more recent titles have included large booklets rich with images, contextual detailing and anecdotes pertaining to the music they accompany, this new ‘Afro-Beat Airways’ reissue remains faithful to the presentation of its original 2010 release. That means that there’s no booklet included here – but, by the same flip of the coin, it does mean that the records are found in handsome printed inner sleeves which offer liner notes in addition to images of various artists included across the compilation. That is enough in itself to set this out as a beautifully packaged release, the stout gatefold sleeve in which the whole thing is presented merely serving as the proverbial icing on the cake. Its construction – wrought, as it is, from sturdy cardstock which feels good in hand – entirely lives up to the precedent set by more recent titles from the label, as does the eye-catching layout and graphic design.

Final Thoughts:

Fans of brilliant vintage African music will find a veritable treasure trove in ‘Afro-Beat Airways’ – and this newly-released vinyl reissue affords those who missed its original release a chance to acquire this beautifully-presented, carefully-curated selection on wax for the first time in years.

Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!