April 2nd, 2012
Title: Be Nice to the People
Artist: Question Mark
Label: Normal Records/QDK Media/Forced Exposure
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Be Nice to the People, by Nigeria’s psychedelic rock group Question Mark, is one of a series of reissues to capitalize on the recent renewal of interest in the 1970’s West African music scene. While the group’s only record was considered by them to be a commercial failure at the time of its release in 1974, bandleader Frank Izuora comments in the liner notes that “now I go online and see people still talking about it, and copies selling for hundreds of dollars!” The lineup of Question Mark includes Izuora on lead vocals and organ, Amehl Izuorah on bass guitar, Chyke Okafor on drums, Uzo Agulefo on percussion and Victor Egbe on lead guitar.
Group members spent parts of their childhoods in 1960’s London, absorbing British and American popular music and combining it with influences from their native land (most importantly Nigerian rock predecessor Ofege). This confluence of backgrounds is obvious throughout the album and even in the instrumentation of the band. Question Mark, with its bass, drumset, guitar and organ, has a fairly standard Western European lineup, but the addition of a percussionist on several tracks playing traditionally African drums connects the group to its local roots.
Combining the rhythmic patterns of James Brown with West African beat patterns, progressive rock guitar effects and American song structures creates a singularly individual sound for Question Mark. Be Nice to the People is most successful when the band merges all of their influences, rather than trying to carbon-copy European rock, because the blending of European with African music is what makes them interesting. The best examples on the record may be the opener “Have You?,” which switches abruptly from a standard rock rhythm to a more African groove for a long, psychedelic solo section, showing off the fuzz guitar styling of Egbe as well as the energy of the band as a whole. However, the title track performs the same rhythmic swap, referencing both African drum patterns and the European progressive music of contemporaries like Traffic. The song “Love” is another highlight that features reggae bass and drums, further expanding Question Mark’s sound.
Be Nice to the People may be their only album, but with it Question Mark managed to create a highly individual sound that seems to be finding a new audience and new level of appreciation every day. As Frank Izuora put it, “Life is funny that way, isn’t it? That’s just the power of music!”
Reviewed by Kat Rampley