Album of the Day: Jess Sah Bi & Peter One, “Our Garden Needs Its Flowers”

Jess Sah Bi & Peter One’s debut album offers a tranquil fusion of organic folk, psychedelic rock, and country music, the kind that should immediately appeal to disciples of Neil Young and Sixto Rodriguez. Yet the Ivorian duo’s ability to blend North American and European influences with traditional West African sounds, along with their bilingual lyrics and their passion for African social commentary, sets Our Garden Needs Its Flowers (originally released in 1985) apart.

The richness of the strummed guitar and the pair’s textured harmonies on serene opener “Clipo Clipo” sets the tone—this is music gorgeous to the ear, played by two musicians who are operating beautifully in tune. The upbeat “Kango” features twangy electric guitars and gently-swinging harmonica. The way the guitar cries on the title track evokes the sound of Nashville, while the band calls an end to social injustice and inequality in South Africa on the punchily titled “Apartheid.”

Our Garden Needs Its Flowers was a sensation upon its release. Jess Sah Bi & Peter One treated stadium-sized crowds to their effervescent rhythms throughout West Africa. Given their penchant for European and North American music, Bi and One might have dreamed of global success, but they split in 1990. After years of existing mostly on low-quality bootlegs, Our Garden Needs Its Flowers has been preserved and reissued by Awesome Tapes From Africa—a giant step toward gaining the band some of the recognition worldwide that West African fans always knew they deserved.

-Dean Van Nguyen

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