Album of the Day: Yoruba Singers, “Fighting for Survival”

 

It was 1971, and Guyana had only just become a Republic—it had achieved independence from its British colonizers in 1966. It was a difficult time, but also one in which the Afro-Guyanese people endeavored to rediscover their roots.  It was against this backdrop that the Yoruba Singers began playing together.

Black-consciousness movements had begun to flourish, and grassroots organizations thrived in their efforts to revitalize African culture. It was while working with one such organization that Eze Rockcliffe founded the Yoruba Singers, and it was in the basement of their offices that the band first started experimenting with cultural presentations of the Afro-Guyanese identity.

The Yoruba Singers’ unique aesthetic and sound, which merged Guyanese rhythms, reggae, funk, and afrobeat, combined with their conscious lyrics and appreciation of their African heritage, made them stand out. They haven’t stopped playing since, and this year, the band celebrated their 47th anniversary.

Considered by many to be Singers’ masterpiece, the 1981 album Fighting for Survival was until recently available only to those willing to cough up hundreds of dollars for an original copy.  Fortunately for the rest of us, Cultures of Soul Records has just reissued the album, which offers a gutsy blend of calypso, funk and afrobeat rhythms.

The opening song, “Frustration”, begins with a prominent bass line, sharp drumming, and twangy guitars before bursting forth in a cluster of poly-rhythmic percussion and  jazzy keys, which give way to the funky, reggae-tinged “Revolution Day,” a scathing appraisal of Guyana’s colonial past. The subject of racism and colonialism is also present in the gut-wrenching power-ballad “Bleeding with Hate,” while on the title track, the band sings of their woes over deep, bluesy-funk riffs.

The Yoruba Singers continue to tour and make music, but Fighting For Survival remains their studio apex, an album that offers a glimpse into the power and pride of Guyana’s Black Consciousness movements.

-Megan Iacobini de Fazio

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