Some of you may recall the sweet sweet sounds of Mary Afi Usuah cropping up on The Listening Post Blog back in January? It’s taken me a while to revisit this wonderful vocalist, but tonight I’ve found another little gem of hers to share.
A powerful woman of funk, soul and afrolife, Mari Affiong Usuah hailed from Oron town, by way of Calabar in southeastern Nigeria. With a voice that carries itself over many genre borders, she was trained as an opera singer at St Cecilia Academy in Rome, after which she spent 13 years touring Europe with artists like Duke Ellington and Deep Purple!
Her strong, powerful vocal skills were the perfect match for Robert Plant when she performed with Led Zeppelin and when she eventually returned to Lagos, Nigeria she blew away even the top names on the scene! Mary Afi Usuah only released two albums but she is undeniably one of the greatest female singers the African continent has produced and through a blend of gospel, soul, funk, jazz and rock her sound is nothing short of impressive and captivating.
Teaming up with the South Eastern State Cultural Band for her 1975 album, Ekpenyong Abasi, Mary wrote all eight tracks including today’s progressive, soul-fuelled and divine little number, From Me to You. The conviction in her vocal delivery leaves no doubt in your mind that each and every pained croon is for real and that every melodic howl is a cry straight from the heart. Usuah has a way of expressing the anguished fallout of a fractured heart with so much tenacity and groove that it literally transforms pain into power. Musically I love the way this track progresses; it’s slow start lays a steady foundation, but you can feel amidst the calm that something else is brewing and when the beat kicks in and the flow gets funky, your anticipation pays off! Deep grooves carved out by dancing bass and flurrying percussion gives this melodic composition a rhythmic form and from this advancement comes a feeling of growth…It’s another beauty…in fact, the whole record is worth a spin!! Listen above and check out the rest of Ekpenyong Abasi here. (which was reissued on the Voodoo Funk label in 2015)