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Tunde Williams Mr. Big Mouth

Tunde Williams
Mr. Big Mouth

HONEST JON'S RECORDS

'Tunde Williams blows from menthol-cool to incinerating on these wonderful vintage tracks' (Daily Telegraph).
Afrika 70, recorded in 1975, produced by Fela Kuti.

Babatunde 'Tunde' Williams was born in Nigeria, in 1943. Like Fela, his family was from Abeokuta, but his father was employed by the United Africa Company in the middle belt city of Makurdi, where Tunde was born in 1943. He attended primary school at Gboko Elementary School in the nearby town of Gboko, and later attended Katsina-Ala Middle School in the northern town of Katsina. Unbeknownst to most people, Tunde’s first instrument was percussion, and his earliest professional experience was as a conga, bongo, and traps player for various highlife bands in the early 1960s. By 1965 he was playing with the highlife band of Olu McFoy, and he later joined Atomic Eight, a highlife and copyright band from Aba in eastern Nigeria. It was in Atomic Eight that he befriended the bandleader Raymond Baba, a multi-instrumentalist who was proficient on both brass and woodwinds. Inspired by Baba’s example, Tunde switched from percussion to trumpet shortly thereafter, with Baba as his first teacher. He also cites Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis as formative influences on the instrument.

Tunde joined Fela’s Koola Lobitos as a trumpeter in late 1967, and remained with Fela through 1978, when he and several other bandmembers left the group acrimoniously following the Berlin Jazz Festival in September of that year. In Afrika 70, he was the most consistent soloist, and his trumpet improvisations graced virtually of the band’s 1970s recordings. The tracks for Mr. Big Mouth had been recorded in 1975, but by the time they were released in 1977, Fela was engaged in a bitter battle with the original label, Decca Records. As a result, many of Afrika 70’s Decca releases from 1977-8 fell through the proverbial cracks, and Mr. Big Mouth was unfortunately one of them. Although it is a great album, it was given little promotion and as a result, is known only to the most committed Afrobeat aficionados, even in Nigeria.

The music on Mr. Big Mouth is similar in feel and mood to other Afrika 70 releases from this time on Decca’s Afrodisia imprint such as Fela’s No Agreement, Stalemate, and Fear Not for Man, and Tony Allen’s No Accomodation for Lagos. The title track is typical of Afrika 70’s uptempo grooves and like much of Fela’s music the lyrics are socially-critical in tone, although unlike Fela’s songs, Tunde’s lyrics are not directed at the government. Rather, he says the title track was a commentary on “…some of the indigenous contractors at that time. The government would give these contractors money to complete a job, and instead they would take the money and surround themselves with women, fancy clothes, and flashy cars, and go around the town bragging like big shots. The jobs never got done, and many of them ended up going to jail for defrauding the government. That’s what I was singing about.” Tunde’s mid-tempo instrumental “The Beginning” (so named because it was his first piece of music to be recorded) is certainly one of the most infectious tracks to come out of Fela’s organization. The laid-back Afrobeat groove is dark and suspenseful, and one can easily hear why the song was often played during Afrika 70’s warm-up sets, as it perfectly sets the tone for a late, smoky night at the Afrika Shrine.

Michael Veal