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Soundway releases a storming compilation of Cameroonian-born, Nigerian-based super producer Nkono Teles’ solo work. The pioneer of West African electronic music was known for being tapped by over 100 other musicians to produce or arrange their music, from King Sunny Adé, Guy Lobe, even Steve Monite's album "Only You" and more.
Having already appeared on Soundway's best-selling compilation "Doing It In Lagos", here more of Nkono's limited solo work is carefully remastered and reissued on vinyl for the first time.
One of a small handful of pioneers of the Nigerian electronic music scene in the 1980s (alongside the likes of Jake Sollo & William Onyeabor), Teles was known for being tapped by over 100 musicians to feature on, produce or arrange their music. The list of '80s Nigerian records that his sound and style embellished is seemingly endless: Steve Monite (he arranged and produced the music on the Only You album recently re-issued by Soundway), Dizzy K, Peter Abdul, Odion Iruoje, Steve Black, Rick Asikpo, Feladey, Charly Boy, Majek Fashek & Sonny Okosuns, to name just a few, all engaged his enigmatic production and keyboard services throughout the 1980s. He became known as the first person in Nigeria to push the use of the drum machine into popular music and created a unique and original boogie-funk sound combining these new beats with guitars and an array of new and affordable synthesiser sounds that started appearing in the early 1980s.
Teles' first break came as a keyboard player in Tony Allen's new solo band, right after he had split with Fela Kuti the Africa 70 at the start of the 1980s. He travelled up to Kaduna in the north of Nigeria only to find that the sponsor had pulled out of funding Allen's band and was stranded in the city. Whilst in Kaduna he met Nigerian artist Steve Black who invited him to join his band. Steve remembers his first encounters with Nkono: "Someone told me there was a Cameroonian boy here that plays keyboards. He came to the studio and he was good, but he only played Cameroon music, mostly Makossa, but I knew he had potential. I said to him - "We have to change our musical style, let's play some funk". We listened to Cameo, The Crusaders, that kind of stuff. He spent hours on end listening to Cameo!"
"After that, Nkono came back to Lagos and every musician wanted to record and was looking for session musicians. When Nkono was in the studio with you he would contribute to the recording. He would arrange, he did a lot of the studio, so everybody liked Nkono. Most other musicians would come to the studio, just do what you ask and that's all, but Nkono wasn’t like that. He would take over, produce and arrange. Once Nkono discovered he could produce, he set up his own production company; everyone began taking their demos to Nkono and he would produce them."
Once you recognize the Nkono Teles Sound you start to hear it everywhere in Nigerian pop music from around 1982 onwards. Steve continues: "Nkono was a very cool guy, very humble, shy, not into drinking or drugs, never smoked. He was a perfect gentleman. He loved his music and loved good musicians. You couldn’t be Nkono’s friend as a musician if you weren't a good musician."
With only three solo albums to his name in this period (Fiesta Dancin, Party Beats & Afro Music Party) Soundway have curated the best tracks into one retrospective mini-compilation alongside an instrumental cut that he wrote, recorded and produced for the singer Jane Coleman on her only album from 1987. Sadly, Nkono Teles died in 2011 after having left Nigeria in the '90s and this material has been licensed from his family in Cameroon. The Nigerian recording industry started to change around this time and piracy made huge inroads into record sales. Nkono moved westwards back home again as Lagos became a harder place to exist and work as a foreigner. With a few productions made in Cameroon, France and the UK during the '90s and early '00s he never quite reached the same level of innovation as he did when he first arrived as a young man in Nigeria in the early '80s.
Mastering by Dan Elleson | Lacquer cuts by Frank Merritt | Artwork restored by Meurig Rees