Joni Haastrup has one of the most fascinating stories in Nigerian music history. The scion of royalty (he’s literally credited on some records as Prince Joni Haastrup, and it’s not a self-selected title), he first came to public prominence in 1966, singing on Orlando Julius Ekemode’s amazing Super Afro Soul album, which is credited with lighting the fuse that launched Afrobeat. A few years later, he hooked up with former Cream drummer Ginger Baker and became a member of Airforce, before forming Monomono in 1971.
On this, their debut album, Monomono are clearly still finding their identity. While Haastrup’s vocals and organ mesh well with Jimmy Adams’s stinging guitar and Baba Ken Okulolo’s thick, liquid bass lines, and two percussionists, Candido Obajimi and Friday Jumbo, keep the rhythm flowing behind them, the songs themselves are a not-always-perfect blend of African grooves and British-influenced psychedelic folk rock. The material was written while Haastrup was in London with Baker and making his name on the UK scene, and it shows. The relentless funk of Fela Kuti’s Afrika 70 and the more lilting grooves of other Nigerian acts like Ebenezer Obey, Haastrup’s former boss Ekemode, and singer/guitarist Sir Victor Uwaifo are present, but they’re watered down by poppish melodies. Fortunately, as the album progresses, tracks like “The World Might fall Over” and “Kenimania” focus on hardcore jamming, the guitar and organ screaming from the speakers in a mind-fryingly psychedelic fashion that recalls early Santana. A promising debut by a band that continued to improve.