Still making our way through Art Garfunkel’s Seventies catalog one song at a time. Nearing the end of Angel Clare but not there yet.
The first time I heard of Osibisa, I was probably a sophomore in high school, and I’d just brought home a used copy of (urp) Uriah Heep’s Look At Yourself.
The poor man’s Deep Purple recruited several Osibisa members to drop in on percussion at about 3:30 into the album’s title track, probably because Heep had worn all their other ideas thin.
Basically, you get to hear what sounds like two extra cowbells and a shaker for about 45 seconds before Heep takes over again.
I was not gripped with a rousing desire to go learn more about Osibisa’s music.
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The next time I heard about Osibisa was sometime in college, catching up on reading Robert Greenfield’s epic Rolling Stone piece on the Stones’ 1971 British tour.
One set piece in the narrative involved a backstage hanger-on called Joyce the Voice — a young lady, in Greenfield’s memorable description, “whose trip it is to be all trippy and sometimes grab the microphone on stage for unscheduled raps.”
At a Stones party in London, our Joycie made the tactical error of asking Bianca Jagger whether Joyce had seen her in Osibisa’s dressing room the week before.
The soon-to-be-wife of Mick Jagger was none too enthused about being mistaken for a groupie, and Joyce the Voice apparently found herself ejected from the room without ever getting a chance to steal Mick’s mic.
This anecdote made me glad that I have never been surrounded by people “whose trip it is to be all trippy,” and glad that today’s concerts are generally not interrupted by unexpected rants about music, God, acid, Richard J. Daley, or any other subject.
However, I was not gripped with a rousing desire to go learn more about Osibisa’s music.
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The third time I heard about Osibisa — don’t worry, there are pretty much only three times; I’m not gonna drag this out — they were collectively credited as writers of “Woyaya,” track three, side two of Art Garfunkel’s first solo album.
(I should probably explain who they are in case some of my readers have encountered three fewer mentions than I have. Osibisa was, and apparently still is, an Afro-pop group founded in the U.K. by expatriate Caribbean and African musicians. They enjoyed a moderately purple patch in the States circa 1971-72, scoring the blaxploitation classic Superfly T.N.T. and landing their first two LPs, Osibisa and Woyaya, in Billboard’s Top 100 album chart.)
“Woyaya” is a songlet of uplift — really only about a verse-and-a-half of words, repeated in a manner that’s meant to suggest the people singing it are passing the time on a long march to freedom.
Retaining the bouzoukified ethno-plunk sound of the preceding song (“Mary Was An Only Child“), Garfunkel enlists a children’s choir to help him deliver the message.
To me, it doesn’t work — both because I don’t much like children’s choirs in any pop setting, and because I have trouble picturing a gang of berobed children marching in determined solidarity down a rutted road, the bohemian Art Garfunkel loping along at their helm.
Garfunkel does not help his cause by kipping out for a smoke at the 1:50 mark and letting the kids carry the remaining minute-plus by themselves.
You could interpret that as a saucy twist on the public’s expectations: Does an “Art Garfunkel album” have to be performed in its entirety by Art Garfunkel? Or is it valid for him to stick on sounds he likes, even if they don’t include him?
Or, you could view it as I do — kind of a slack way to fill out a song that has no clear, winning path of egress.
I have, just now, checked out the Osibisa original on YouTube. It’s the first time I have actually heard anything by Osibisa.
It’s driven by a comforting, earthy Hammond (as opposed to the speed-freaky, this-goes-to-11 Hammond playing of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley), and the vocals have a worn-down gravitas that do justice to the lyrics.
The original also includes the “woyaya” chant excised by Garfunkel, and a brief percussion jam that probably isn’t really necessary but is OK anyway.
So, you can say this for Angel Clare: Unlike Uriah Heep or pushy British groupies, it finally gripped me with a rousing (well, mild but actionable) desire to go learn more about Osibisa’s music.