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Extra Golden
Ok-Oyot System
Thrill Jockey

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

August 23, 2006
Extra Golden's Ok-Oyot System is like the indie rock version of Paul Simon's Graceland. The group is made up of Ian Eagleson of Golden, Alex Minoff of Golden/Weird War, and two Kenyan musicians, Otieno Jagwasi and Onyango Wuod Omari, from Orchestra Extra Solar Africa. Who knew that the pairing of these four individuals would result in something so extraordinary, so infectious (just try turning off tracks 1 or 3)?

Ok-Oyot System transcends its origins and tells the story of an educated man, his friend, some tough times justified, and two talented African musicians. Extra Golden came together because of extreme curiosity; the bandmates hooked up through Eagleson's interest in an African style of guitar-influenced dance music called benga. He studied the art formally, eventually earning a doctorate in world music. During his research that had him living in Africa for months at a time, Eagleson met the prolific artist Jagwasi, along with many other musicians like him (including the drummer Omari), and in 2004 teamed up with Golden bandmate and Weird War guitarist and singer Minoff to form the quartet of Extra Golden.

To a point, the backstory is as important as the music itself: the title Ok-Oyot System is taken from the Luo phrase "ok oyot" which literally means, "it's not easy." The saying is a popular one among benga artists, and sums up a challenging African way of life. Jagwasi singing in Luo, and Minoff and Eagleson in English, express as much through their heartfelt and positive-outlook vocals.

The combination of rock and benga styles is unique. From the Kenyan side comes a less polished but more dance-oriented, exploratory, other-cultural style. From the Golden side is a sound that is both dance-forward and rock 'n' roll flavored. The compositions are a bit of Column A and a bit of Column B - rootsy guitar, deep-toned vocals, short but clever lyrics, exotic melodies, and dance-beat drum kit rhythms from the benga; guitar prowess/effect, standard beatplay, and higher-pitched vocal tone from Eagleson and Minoff. A couple tracks - "It's Not Easy" and "Tussin' and Fightin'" - have 4/4 rhythms and straightforward strummed acoustic guitar at their core, obvious signs that they were created in a Western frame of mind and then added to by Jagwasi and Omari.

It is also intriguing to note that most of what is heard on this album was recorded during one afternoon in a decrepit Nairobi night club that Jagwasi's band Hit Sounds International held down a residency at in 2004. The album breathes with an accepting aura of give-and-take between two groups of men across two highly different cultures. What do they say?-music is an international language-yeah, that applies here. Unlike albums that have been overprocessed by many accidental hit musical groups of today, Ok-Oyot System is finally a breath of music that is real and lively, as humanistic as it is instrumental.

The most infectious of the tracks are the four-on-the-floor rhythm dancers "Ok-Oyot System," "Ilando Gima Onge," and "Osama Rach." All three boast clean, interweaving guitar parts; prancing, lively bass lines; seamless, effective transitions; and a duality of high-toned English/low-droning Kenyan vocal call-and-response melodies that is a rare musical treat.

Unfortunately for the group and music lovers worldwide, a year after the recording of Extra Golden's debut (and prior to its Thrill Jockey release), lead singer Otieno Jagwasi passed away in 2005. Ok-Oyot System carries on as an inimitable reminder, and a high musical standard for many groups nowadays to match. It is safe to say that many will come up short.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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