J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ginger Baker in Africa


Ginger Baker in Africa
Directed by Tony Palmer
53 minutes
Eagle Rock Entertainment

Given the success of Drumstruck! Off-Broadway, it seems odd that there has yet to be a cast album. However, Ginger Baker in Africa newly on DVD, features excellent African percussion that might appeal to the same audience. For others, the footage of Fela Kuti relatively early in his career alone will be worth the price of admission.

Like Andy Summers of The Police and Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones (whom Baker succeeded in Blues Incorporated), Ginger Baker is a musician who initially found fame through a rock group, but recorded jazz sessions later in his career. In the period after Cream, before leading groups with Bill Frisell and Ron Miles, Baker explored African music. In 1971, Tony Palmer documented Baker’s trek from Algeria to Nigeria, across the Sahara desert.

The result is a trippy road movie with a great soundtrack, which is most definitely of its time. Despite the heat which literally melted the tires of his Range Rover, Baker keeps his shaggy red hair and beard throughout his journey. It was an eventful trip, complicated by an expensive run-in with the gendarmerie in Tamanrassett, related in an animated sequence (presumably the constabulary put the kibosh on the cameras).

Even with the sand constantly in his cameras, Palmer produced some attractive looking sequences, particularly Baker’s arrival in Lagos. Of course for most, Fela Kuti & Africa ‘70 performing at Calabar will be the highlight.

As an example of a rock oriented, jazz influenced musician interacting with African artists, Ginger Baker in Africa might make for a good double feature with Soul to Soul. Regardless, the combination of the music, Palmer’s visuals, and Baker’s laconic narration make Ginger Baker in Africa entertaining viewing.