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.
Monomono’s second album, The Dawn of Awareness, was originally released in 1974, and it’s quite a change from the psychedelic art-rock sounds, tinged with jazzy folk-pop, heard on the group’s debut, 1971′s Give the Beggar a Chance. These six songs are propelled by thick, syrupy funk-rock grooves, and the lyrics (four of six songs are in English, two in Yoruba) carry assertive messages of social consciousness, befitting titles like “Get Yourself Together,” “Awareness Is Wot You Need,” and “Make Them Realise.” Despite the richness of Haastrup’s voice, though, the music is the real selling point here. Stinging guitar solos (by Jimmy Adams), funky organ breaks (by Haastrup himself), and powerful drumming (plus hypnotic, Santana-esque conga work) allow this stuff to sit comfortably alongside any soul/funk/rock radio track of the era. Listen carefully — the background vocals on “Make Them Realise” sound uncannily like Michael McDonald. The Dawn Of Awareness isn’t just a masterpiece of Afro-rock; it’s a classic ’70s album, full stop.