Freestyle Records has announced that they are to re-issue the incredible music of the legendary Ginger Johnson & His African Messengers.
With its bedrock of African drums, fused with hi-life and jazz, Ginger Johnson’s music was in fact the main forerunner of afrobeat – and Ginger’s direct influence upon afrobeat’s undisputed champion, Fela Kuti, tells a fascinating and under appreciated story that only now is being recognised for its significance.
Ginger Johnson’s story is one of the greatest untold stories of African music in Europe. A Nigerian immigrant to London in the late 1940s, Ginger quickly earned a reputation as the ‘go to’ African percussionist in England and became the rhythmic backbone to the big band of Edmundo Ros, the jazz groups of Ronnie Scott and many other 1950s British modern jazzers. His 50s recordings for Melodisc were among the very first examples of African music recorded and released in Britain. The chief exponent of the African talking drum, by the mid-1960s Ginger was fully established as the only Afro-Cuban session player to book. What is also surprisingly unknown is that Ginger Johnson was mentor, guide, guru and father figure to a young Fela Kuti. Ginger’s house in Victoria, London was a vibrant hub of African music activity for Fela and an entire host of African musicians who would gather there to exchange news, talk, eat and jam for hours on end. To Fela, and all the younger musicians who gravitated towards Ginger’s home, he was simply known and addressed as ‘Father’. Aside from his own music, Ginger was also instrumental in the beginnings of The Notting Hill Carnival. And, his own venue, Club Iroko in North London, was a creative hub for groups like Osibisa, Cymande, and also a welcome hang out for visiting legends like Art Blakey, Roland Kirk, and Elvin Jones.
Ginger and his collective’s playing graces the recordings of everybody from Georgie Fame to Barbara Streisand and Hawkwind. Ginger and his group performed at The Royal Variety Performance, and even featured in the James Bond film ‘Live & Let Die’. But, perhaps Ginger Johnson & His African Messengers’ most high profile engagement was performing with The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park in 1969 in front of a crowd so big you could not see where it ended. Ginger and his troupe provided the beat-heavy and lengthy intro to the supremely high energy, live version of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’.
For Ginger’s son, Dennis Dee Mac Johnson, this deal with Freestyle ends a long process to gain recognition for his father’s music, "I am so happy that my father's album will finally be re-issued. His music will live on in the old and new audiences, who will now get to hear his work in its full glory! We call 'African Party' The Holy Grail Of Afrobeat - as he is The Godfather of Afrobeat!"
Dennis, and one of Ginger Johnson's closest friends and collaborators, original band member; Lord Eric Sugumugu, will be available for interview opportunities. Furthermore, The Ginger Johnson Legacy Band is setting plans in motion for concerts so this infectious vibrant music can thrill live audiences again.
Forthcoming on Freestyle Records (release dates are tentative and subject to change):
• FSR7084 | Ginger Johnson And His African Messengers - I Jool Omo (7” / MP3) | March/April
• FSRCD110 | Ginger Johnson And His African Messengers - African Party (LP / CD / MP3) | May/June