A Beginner's Guide to the Daktaris

Before the Daptone empire, there was a Nigerian Afrobeat crew that did not exist

So, when Soul Explosion was released (a few years after it was recorded, since everyone thought it was too obscure until a national surge of interest in Afrobeat after Fela's death), the fake packaging was a no-brainer, from the exotic-looking safari scene on the "Produced in Nigeria"–festooned cover to the liner notes by "Peter Franklin of Abidjan Musique." ("I think I wrote that," says Roth.) The personnel listings, save for a couple genuine entries like saxophonist Joe Hrbek and trombonist Neal Pawley, were all fake names dreamed up by Wagner's Nigerian roommate at the time, future TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe.

And, once again, the public bought it. "We had people claiming they owned the original!" remembers Roth, incredulously. "And that they had the Daktaris' first record, and it was a lot more traditional!" It wasn't that the crew pushed the hoax—in fact, the truth was literally spelled out in one of the song titles: "Eltsuhg Ibal Lasiti" spelled backwards is "It is all a big hustle." Instead, the myth of a lost '70s funk/Afrobeat album became part of people's collective memory. "Something I learned very early putting out records," says Roth, "is that the cover art and the story of the record is not just something that comes along the side of the music—it actually becomes part of the music. That's why it's important."

Yes, this album cover is slightly misleading.
Courtesy Daptone Records
Yes, this album cover is slightly misleading.

Soul Explosion is being re-issued "because people kept asking me if they could have a copy," says Roth, not because he expects to sell a ton. Still, it'll probably reach enough people to underscore what an impact even a so-called "fake" record can have, inspiring white Americans everywhere to discover a slice of African music and propelling a bunch of funk-crazy college buddies into a modestly successful career—one that even includes backing up Rod Stewart.

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