Title: The Ghetto
Artist: Paul Ngozi
Label: QDK Media/Motaxis Music & Arts
Release date: July 31, 2012
As world-trekking record obsessives plunder studio vaults for patina-crusted, across-the-sea curios like Indian psychedelia, Russian funk, and Nigerian disco (and the list goes on), the novelty of such strange brews wears off amidst the heavy traffic of the reissues market. The reissue of Paul Ngozi’s 1976 album The Ghetto, however, should not be overlooked by music adventurists, lest they miss out on one of the leading figures of Zambian rock (or Zamrock as those collector types call it). While Paul Ngozi (1949–1989) stands among Zambia’s most successful recording artists, he is known to few outside the West African country. The Ghetto provides an opportunity to understand Ngozi’s local legend and to discover his broad appeal.
Much like his contemporaries Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On) and Gil Scott-Heron (Small Talk at 125th and Lenox), Paul Ngozi writes an ode to the poetics and politics of ghetto life that is most unforgettable. From a pulpit of fuzzed out guitar riffs and African rhythms, Ngozi preaches about poverty’s ills and the need for social uplift. “In the Ghetto” uses honeyed vocals over a laid-back reggae groove to tell of the tragic effects of parental neglect. In the first half of the song, Ngozi plays the observer, telling of the sad sight of “mothers drinking and fathers drinking [who’ve] forgotten about the kids starving at home.” In the second half of the song, however, Ngozi directly addresses the parents, gently imploring them “to remember [their] kids.”
In “Suicide” he plays the same instructive role, telling the people of the ghetto not to despair, saying, “No matter what folks may do to you, thou shalt not commit suicide.” And, in the same way that he sweetens the medicine in “In the Ghetto,” Ngozi tackles taboo with a ballast of rock’n’roll. The song kicks off like one of Thin Lizzy’s anthemic rockers, and drives the point home that “no matter what folks may do to you,” there’s always good music. But “Suicide” never comes close to sounding like a public service announcement or a sermon, miraculously, given Ngozi’s topicality. Ngozi’s raunchy guitar solos play over an irresistibly danceable groove, making the pill more than palatable.
Following is the album trailer:
Ngozi’s searing guitar licks on “Can’t You Hear Me” turn the song into a rhetorical question. Whether preaching or playing, Ngozi’s message is loud and clear: If the ghetto can make good music, then music can do good things for the ghetto. On the final track “Jesus Christ,” Ngozi tells a psychedelic parable that allows listeners to escape their mental trappings and imagine a different world, one of peace, forgiveness, and, most of all, hope.
Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd