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Ginger Baker: In Africa

Eagle Vision // Unrated // September 5, 2006
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted November 7, 2006 | E-mail the Author
It has been said that Ginger Baker (Ginger being a nickname he was given due to his red hair- his real name is Peter Baker) was rock's first true superstar drummer, and one of the most influential percussionists of the '60. While others might have been better known, their fame was due in part to the bands with which they played. Baker made his name on his playing, which was first showcased with the superstar assemblage of Baker, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce in Cream- a group that made enormous amounts of money during their run but simply had too many egos in the mix to stay together. Cream broke up after an electric two years, and Baker moved from there to another superstar band, Blind Faith, with Clapton and Steve Winwood. That band had an even shorter life span, and from there came Ginger Baker's Air Force which produced two albums. Virtually every heavy metal drummer since the 60's has sought to emulate the style of Baker in some form or another, consciously or not.

In November 1971, Baker made the decision to set up his own recording studio in Lagos, then the capital of Nigeria, the first multi track studio of its kind in Northern Africa. A Western innovator in regards to the potential of African music, he also made the decision to travel to Nigeria by vehicle, an endeavor that could be construed as being a trifle insane considering the fact that the Sahara Desert must be crossed in order to do so. Still, Ginger decided it might be a rewarding musical experience, so he purchased one of the first ever built Range Rovers and brought in music composer and film director Tony Palmer to film the trek. The trip was a long and intense one, and according to Baker's narration was filled with a number of adventures.

This was a period before the oil boom and succession of corrupt governments in the country, and one with music aplenty to be studied, from the African talking-drummers of Oshogbo to a visit to the city of Calabar where Baker's friend Fel Ransome-Kuti performed with incredible power. Baker, Palmer and crew were in a region where they were the only white faces. According to the literature provided this was not as frightening as their nights in a Calabar hotel, rooms infested by and literally covered from ceiling to floor with mosquitoes. Baker's take on this was, if we can survive this, we can survive anything.

Over the next few years he worked with a number of acts ranging from Fela to Paul McCartney and Wings, which used Baker's studio to record what is certainly their best album, "Band On The Run". He also recorded a solo release in house, "Stratavarious". successfully running through the seventies as a facility of both Western and local musicians, Baker eventually lost the studio as well as most of his finances.

At best I found this documented journey to be a mixed bag; on the plus side, there is some wonderful, energetic music performed by the African musicians with Baker himself sitting in on drums. As could be expected percussion is the driving force in much of the material here, but it also has its share of soaring guitar and horn work. Some of the stuff here is a bit jazzy, and in fact a trifle musically indicative of the period in which the documentary was filmed. The dancing here by a number of the native Africans is also worth noting, movements containing energetic, athletic adeptness. Unfortunately that's about it as far as I'm concerned. The trip itself is rather tedious to watch with a number of drawn maps giving the viewer the various locations to which the crew roam, an abundance of admittedly lovely desert scenery to take in, and a bit of odd 70's type animation of Baker and his endeavors with the local authorities. I can understand why Ginger would want to film this for personal posterity and the sheer fun of doing so, but to bring it out as a DVD release seems pointless; clocking in at 53 minutes, it has the look and feel of a "you had to be there" odyssey.


According to the box the video aspect here is 16 x 9 screen format so I presume this is 1.85:1 widescreen. Video quality here is average. Colors aren't bad on the whole, but the picture is fuzzy and has a washed out appearance. Given the age and camera quality of the endeavor it isn't awful, but average at best.


I'm presuming this to be a mono track; no specifications are to be found on the box liner, nor could I ferret out a solid answer watching the disc itself. In any case, the sound is decent, but no more than that.


No extras.

Final Thoughts-

For the most part, I found this short film to be of only mild interest. While Baker and crew are at times engaging and the music can be interesting to hear, it is repetitive, tedious, and simply boring. Ginger Baker is a wonderful, groundbreaking drummer with a well known interest in African percussion and music. He also seems to be a very likable personality. Still, I'll be focusing my attention and admiration for his fine musicianship on the Cream DVDs available. Skip it.
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