Music Reviews
The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers

Africa 80

Omnivore Records

The Staple Singers were stars on the gospel circuit long before they became pop stars. The group’s shift away from strictly gospel began in the 1960s, when the group regularly performed at civil rights events and festivals. Band patriarch Pops Staples grasped the chance to spread his message to more people mixing folk, blues, soul, and gospel into their repertoire. The fact that larger audiences meant larger paydays didn’t hurt, either.

Africa 80 was recorded on the group’s first tour of the African continent in 1980. The tour was sponsored by the US government as a cultural exchange mission. The concert begins with the weakest song in the set, a funky reading of “Ease on Down the Road” from the musical, The Wiz. The song just doesn’t flow well with the folk/gospel sound of the rest of the record.

The set heats up quickly after that, with the hits “Let’s Do It Again” and “Respect Yourself.” The group sounds loose and spirited, with Mavis and Pops trading leads on “Respect Yourself.” “Come Go With Me” follows, with their gospel roots on full display. They will go full gospel again later in the set with a rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “He’s Alright.”

The Staples Singers’ social commentary comes through on “Why Am I Treated So Bad.” The group shows off their harmony singing on this slow-churning blues song. Pops gives a recitation about the Black church putting the song in context with their gospel, civil rights heritage.

Everything comes together in an ecstatic version of “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend.” The song builds to a revival meeting intensity. The song almost comes to an end, with Mavis improvising and testifying while the band vamps along. The song officially ends with the MC announcing the band. The Staple Singers come back almost immediately, with a frenzied reprise of “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend.”

Africa 80 leaves you wanting more. There are songs I’d have liked to hear, but mainly it’s just the positive vibe they share. With the world in the shape it’s in right now, we could all use an injection of positivity. The Staple Singers have positivity to spare.

Omnivore Recordings


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