In 1981, the music landscape was a wasteland. There were the dying heaves of disco run ragged by punk, which was rusting into new wave. No wave was on the horizon, and Kool DJ Herc’s legendary revolutions were rumbling out of the Bronx’s dark, dirty streets. The music world was turning inward, getting darker and sparser, exploring Unknown Pleasures. Prince had unveiled his first masterpiece, Dirty Mind, a year earlier and the decade would rightly belong to him. But in 1981, the Talking Heads were still kings of the junkyard.
David Byrne was road weary after globetrotting behind Fear of Music. Brian Eno was spent after a string of solo albums that began in 1974 with Here Come The Warm Jets, and got progressively more avant garde until Ambient 1: Music For Airports completely dismissed vocals for lush soundscapes. At the height of their respective popularity, both wanted to go further out, exploring minimalism. They were interested more in rhythm than melody, borrowing tape splicing and sampling techniques from pioneers like John Cage (“Imaginary Landscape No. 4”), Steve Reich (“It’s Gonna Rain”) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (Telemusik).
At the same time, Byrne and Eno were delving into the surreal jazz / rock scene in Nigeria. Led by Sunny Ade, Sir Shina Adewale and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, their cries echoed the great Nigerian author Amos Tutuolo, whose “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” had been published 30 years earlier.
Full of angst and revulsion, the novel offered the story of a young boy trapped in a weird world of “television-handed ghosts.” The tale, with these strange images, anticipated musical Afro-futurism – later expounded by Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, James Brown, Sly Stone, Miles Davis, Funkadelic and John Coltrane, among others. The project that took its name from the Tutuola novel cobbled all those swirling influences as Byrne and Eno side-by-side slowly laid to tape their own Afro-inspired musique concr