Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Although we can agree there are certain qualitative assessments which can be made about disco tracks, at core the function of the music was clear: get people on the dancefloor and keep them there.
In that sense anything in the world of disco with a beat which moves a crowd could be considered successful. Which may also explain why, when hip-hop was getting out of the starting gates at rent parties and in parks, much of the music sampled came from disco and dance records.
These days we look at disco through different lenses than those used at the time. In the Seventies the white rock critic/radio jock backlash ("disco sucks") seems to be as much grounded in homophobia and racism as anything else, and the success of disco -- first in gay and black clubs, then spreading to a partytime white audience not enamored with much rock music -- slowly seeped into the wider culture.
Yes, it came with funny clothes and hairstyles -- and its contemporary punk didn't? -- which can be easily parodied, but there were also classic singles (it was mostly a singles movement, just like early rock'n'roll which also aimed for the dancefloor) and today the whole genre is being rifled for musical ideas.
Disco also went global and it swept up Ghanaian Kiki Gyan who had been somewhat of a local sensation for his keyboard skills, traveled with a band to Britain in the late Sixties where he met Osibisa, returned to Ghana, and when Osibisa visited the country he was subsequently invited to join them when their keyboard player Robert Bailey quit in the mid Seventies. Gyan was in the version of the band which made its money touring -- after their three important albums and before their Osibirock - but his tenure was short.
He wasn't in the band when they recorded their Black Magic Night; Live at the Royal Festival Hall double album. He'd argued with them over money and lit out for session work in London, then the profitable pastures of disco . . . and certainly he had the multi-instrumental chops to pull it off.
He went to the States and fell in with bad company, picked up a rampant drug addiction and ended up back in Ghana -- in hospital care for Aids-related illnesses -- which is where he died.
It's perhaps drawing too long a bow to repeat the website blather which likens Gyan to being "Africa's answer to Stevie Wonder" -- that phrase seems to have originated from the record company promotion for the reissue of some of his disco tracks -- but there's no doubt he knew his Chic.
The seven song collection 24 Hours in a Disco (Soundway) takes its title from one of the tracks, others included are Disco Dancer, Keep On Dancing, Disco Train and Sexy Dancer . . . so you get the picture.
With his falsetto, classy keyboard work, disco-funk basslines and natty echo, Gyan has the dancefloor template down cold, although its only on Keep On Dancing with its energetic percussion that you get any whiff of an African point of difference he might have exploited.
But try not shouting "shake your booty" on Disco Dancer when his keyboard melody takes you right to that familiar hook.
Apparently Kiki Gyan was once voted the eighth best keyboard player in the world -- during his Osibisa stint I guess -- and he's certainly got plenty of music ripe for sampling.
He may not have been overly original in his disco tracks, but that's not necessarily been part of the contract in the genre. These well produced tracks do what they need to: they get people on the dancefloor and keep them there.