Osibisa: criss-cross rhythms live in the early to mid 1970s

Osibisa: criss-cross rhythms live in the early to mid 1970s
osibisalpOsibisa is Ghanian for…’criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness’. Good choice of name. Osibisa were ahead of their time. Formed in 1971 their unique fusion of African, Caribbean, Rock, Jazz, Latin and R‘n’B paved the way for world music, disco, reggae and Bob Marley and the emergence of African music in the 80s. A night in the company of Osibisa was guaranteed to be good fun, high energy, and very different from the progressive rock I was going to see at the time, and the punk music that lay just around the corner for me. David Hughes wrote (Disc and Music Echo, 1971): “….criss-cross rhythms are exploding with happiness right across the country, and if ever you want to get high – but naturally – all you have to do is see them play, hear their music or simply be in their presence!” Osibisa are one of those bands that I saw several times, but can’t recall exactly where or when. It was in the early to mid 70s, and probably at Sunderland Locarno or Newcastle Mayfair. I definitely remember seeing them at Newcastle Poly Students Union one night. Marie and I were in the habit of going along to the Poly dances on Friday nights in the mid 70s. Most of the time we didn’t know who was performing until we arrived, which had to be before 10.30pm (no entry after that point, to dissuade the locals turning up when the pubs closed). Once or twice we got there to find Osibisa playing, which was a great surprise. In his memoirs “Broken Music” Sting refers to his band Last Exit supporting Osibisa at a Poly gig in the mid 70s. Well; I don’t recall seeing Last Exit that night (they had probably finished their set by the time we arrived) but I do recall Osibisa going down a storm. Crazy beats, happy vibes, wonderful Roger Dean graphics on their album covers and the late great founder member Sparticus R (actually he left in the early days of the band). They would explode into the hall; pounding congas, driving bass, chants; the crowd were up and with them from the start, dancing along with the African highlife rhythms. “Sunshine Day” was out at the time; which must place it around 1975. Think I also saw them at Bede College Durham (or that could have been Assagai who were another African rock band of the time) and at Reading festival when they were a special guest band, closing the 1976 festival. Osibisa are still playing today. Robin Denselow reviewed a 2010 gig at the Festival Hall London: “Osibisa have played a unique role in the history of African music. No other band achieved such extraordinary success, in terms of hit singles and albums in the UK and US, and yet no other band fell so dramatically from fashion…….But Osibisa kept going and, 40 years on, they were back in London to show that they have refused to change their approach, and are still populist mavericks” (the Guardian, 3rd March 2010). Time for me to see them again methinks.
Sting (2005), Broken Music: A Memoir, Dial Press.
Osibisa website: http://www.osibisa.co.uk/

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mitch on January 9, 2014 at 10:47 am

    An interesing bit of trivia linked to Osibisa is that in 1973 their guitarist Wendell Richardson stood in for Paul Kossoff on the American leg of the Heartbreaker tour. Kossoff was unable to go due to his drug problems.
    Free split up for good at the end of the tour.


  2. Posted by ian watson on January 9, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Hi Pete, they played the empire in the 70s it might of been there….


  3. Posted by Harry Shemilt on January 1, 2023 at 9:37 pm

    Hello Pete,
    I was obsessed with Osibisa when they first emerged in the UK. I Wore out their 1st two albums, notable for their gatefold artwork. I first saw them at one of the Crystal Palace Garden parties in 1972 and they went down a storm. The 2nd time was in 1975 at Salford Poly, probably on the same tour that you saw them on. The venue was a large sports hall and there was no seating. I don’t think this was unusual for a college gig. However, they were about an hour late and there were no announcements about when they would turn up. The crowd were getting increasingly restless and I thought it was going to get ugly.

    When they finally turned up, they just breezed in and got straight into it. After the 1st number, all was forgiven. The sheer exuberance and excitement of their playing swept everyone up. Everyone danced through the whole set and we went home wringing wet as if we had all run a marathon. What a night and what a band.


    • Posted by vintagerock on January 2, 2023 at 12:30 pm

      Hi Harry. Osibisa remain very underrated. They brought great black rhythms to many many people in the 1970s. You were guaranteed a fun night out when they were on the bill. I saw them many times and was always impressed. Happy days Peter


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