During their seminal career as a group, The Funkees, as one of the premier Igbo bands, were the darlings of Eastern Nigeria. The Biafran War was still fresh on the minds of all Igbo people, so their upbeat music was welcomed with open arms. In a sense, one could even look at it as part of the rebuilding process in the years following the war. Many young people needed an outlet, and music provided that. If you look at the creative output of music towards the end of the war, and the years that followed, the sheer amount of music being pumped out, particularly by Igbo bands, was simply astonishing. Some of the most popular Igbo musicians in that period were Sonny Okosun, The Ikenga Super Stars of Africa and The Apostles, and The Funkees were part of this post-war wave.
Historically, the face of Nigerian music internationally had mostly been that of the incredibly talented Yoruba musicians from western Nigeria, and Lagos was seen as the music capital of the country. Bands like The Funkees began to change that perception, and in doing so became a source of cultural pride for many Igbos. Now, over three decades later, The Funkees are a hot commodity, for western audience that is. Nigerian audiences seem to have forgotten who they are. With the African reissue market booming in the west, The Funkee’s music has become a fixture on many Nigerian funk and afro-rock compilations, with the most popular song being Akula Owu Onyeara.
For non-native Igbo speakers, "Onyeara" means crazy, mad or insane. Basically, someone not right in the head. "Akula Owu Onyeara" can be roughly translated as “Don’t hit that person, he’s crazy.” Like many older Nigerian songs being rediscovered by Western audiences, it’s been sampled by young urban artists. One example of such is by Joe Kickass, a Netherlands-based rapper, on his song titled Akula. Listening to the song, it’s not clear if he knows what "Akula" actually means.
Most of the other samples have appeared on mixtapes and mashups, probably without permission (since no one seems to believe they need to ask for permission when sampling for mixtapes).
Despite the critical acclaim and warm reception their music received from its inclusion on various Nigerian compilations, there was no official reissue focusing solely on their own music. Thankfully, Soundway Records recently changed that by releasing Dancing Time: The Best of Eastern Nigeria’s Afro Rock Exponents 1973 – 77. If you know anything about The Funkees, when you see the track-list of the 18-track selection, you'll know that this is the holy grail. The tracks are from two LPs and 45 singles previously released only in Nigeria.
You aren’t going to get all this music, in this pristine quality, anywhere else for the price of this reissue. I know this firsthand. The originally 45 singles routinely sell for over $100 on eBay, on the rare occasions when they show up. I only got to know about The Funkees because they were based in what is now known as Abia State (in their day, it was East Central State and later Imo State), and it’s where my mother is from. It was common to have older relatives who had music by The Funkees, which is how people like me who came a generation later got exposed to the music. If you want to track down original record pressings by The Funkees, you will pay a hefty sum as the originals are collector’s items, and many of them have questionable quality.
Soundway have released a gem of a title here, and rest assured it will probably be one of the bestselling African reissue titles of the year. But it’s not only going to sell because of the rarity, but also because it’s great music. As someone who is half Igbo, this release resonates with me on a personal level. It’s an album that will get you moving and grooving. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s Dancing Time indeed!