After two volumes of heavy, straight-up motherland funk, DJ/label curator John Bryan culled Africa Airways 3 from thousands of warehouse records from West Africa, paring down to only the sleekest and fast-burning cuts. Coming from a time when West Africa was full of military rulers and one-party states fueled by oil money, the compilation provides sneaky testimony that the region flourished culturally all the same. Some collectors might grumble that there’s a few overlaps with Stone Throw’s excellent 2005 comp World Psychedelic Classics 3. AA3 has no big names except for Manu Dibango (“Soul Makossa”), with a number of groups only existing for a few singles or an album. The tunes are mostly instrumentals, sprinkled with occasional vocals (many times in English) scattered in the lo-fi mixes, leaning more towards guitar freak-outs and tropicalia itself. And even though many of AA3 songs are complex, multi-part journeys, most of them still confine themselves to the classic under-five-minutes single format.
What’s extraordinary about these otherwise forgotten, barely existent singles isn’t just their dynamic, insistent groove but also how each piece giddily slices across traditions and styles as much as it honors them. Since the lilting poly-rhythms of Nigerian juju were also coming up in the early ’70s, it’s no surprise to hear them in cuts like Afro National’s “Push Am Forward” and Bunzu Soundz’s “Zinabu.” You can hear Santana-like modal guitar flights in the Bunzu as well as in Ofo & the Black Company’s “Allah Wakbarr,” which also adds chants and thunderous percussion over flailing guitar stabs. Just as with other classic dance records, we get boogie instructional guides here too, including Afro National’s directive to “push am forward, to the left, to the right” and theatrical Indonesian outliers Aka’s “Shake ” which offers up James Brown tributes surf music drum rolls, and a shout-out to Mickey Mouse over a halting groove.