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Wali and the Afro-Caravan


Wali King
 

 In the mid '60s, the Afro-Caravan, formed and lead by 22-year-old Wali King, brought a new kind of percussion-based jazz to Central Texas. As comfortable and accepted at Austin's downtown hippy haven, the Vulcan Gas Company, as at the predominantly Black Austin east-side nightclub, The Afro, the hip ethnic jazz group garnered a following that crossed age and racial lines. Sonobeat's relationship with the Afro-Caravan began in August 1968, after Sonobeat Records owners Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley (Bill Jr.) heard the group perform at the Vulcan.

 
 
 
The Afro-Caravan's Sonobeat stereo single, Comin' Home Baby
In August 1968, Sonobeat recorded the Afro-Caravan before a live audience at HemisFair in San Antonio, Texas. Recorded in just one take on a 2-track Ampex 354, Comin' Home Baby (backed with Afro-Twist) was Sonobeat's only commercial release of a live performance by any artist.

The Austin-based Afro-Caravan were Wali King (congas and bongos), Robert Moore (percussion), J. Murray (tenor and alto recorders), Ronald Nance (bass violin), and Ray Lewis (flute). The group eventually took the name Wali and the Afro-Caravan. The combination of instrumentation, rhythm, and melodies were, as producers Josey Sr. and Kelley wrote in their liner notes for the Afro-Caravan's 1969 album, Home Lost and Found (The Natural Sound), "rhythmic -- romantic -- thrilling -- appealing -- satisfying."


Liberty/UA's commercial release of the Afro-Caravan album on the Solid State label
 

Sessions for Home Lost and Found began in fall '68. The album was recorded on Sonobeat's Scully 280 4-track recorder in the spacious den at the Josey family home in northwest Austin. Sonobeat released a limited non-commercial vinyl advance pressing of the album early in 1969. The "white jacket" release was intended primarily to attract a sale of the masters to a national label, which finally came in fall '69, almost a year after the album had been recorded. Liberty/UA Records -- which had purchased Johnny Winter's The Progressive Blues Experiment album from Sonobeat in '68 -- bought the Afro-Caravan album master. Sonobeat retained rights to the single, since neither of the songs on the single appeared on the album. Early in '70, Liberty/UA released Home Lost and Found on its Solid State jazz label. The album featured a highly stylized double-fold jacket with photography by L'Azul and Renate Taylor. Interestingly, the Solid State album cover shows the silhouettes of 6 performers, but the Afro-Caravan was a quintet.

The Home Lost and Found sessions -- which spanned several evenings -- yielded seven tracks, ranging in length from 4 minutes to over 11 minutes, the longer songs giving the Afro-Caravan plenty of room to stretch musically. Five songs were Afro-Caravan originals. The album received -- and, although long out of print, even today receives -- excellent reviews, and Wali's arrangement of the traditional Hail to the King is considered an Afro-jazz classic. The album remains vital and musically relevant in the 21st century, validating the adage "everything old is new again."

   
 
Wali and the Afro-Caravan 2nd album master tape boxes.

Bill Josey Sr. produced a second album with Wali and the Afro-Caravan in a series of sessions beginning January 29 and ending February 1, 1971. The tracks were recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio. The untitled album featured four songs on side 1, including an expanded remake of Afro-Twist, and a 19 minute three-song suite, Shades of Africa, on side 2. Bill Sr. offered the album to Liberty/UA Records, which passed for reasons not documented in the Sonobeat archives, and circulated demos of the album on audio cassettes, beginning his trend away from the much more expensive vinyl test pressings Sonobeat previously had used for its demo albums. Also not documented is why Josey didn't release the album on the Sonobeat label, but the likely reason was purely financial: albums cost significantly more to master, press, package, and market than 45s and were very difficult to sell in sufficient numbers in regional markets to make a profit. And jazz albums were far more difficult to sell than rock or country albums. The second Afro-Caravan album is certainly as good as Home Lost and Found, and it's unfortunate that it remains unreleased. We're pleased to present sound bites from the Sonobeat single as well as from the three songs that were to make up the Shades of Africa suite.

Sonobeat Sound Bites

Comin' Home Baby (Sonobeat stereo single R-s106 - "A" side)  
Afro-Twist (Sonobeat stereo single R-s106 - "B" side)  
Shades of Africa Part I (unreleased; remixed from 4-track master)  
Shades of Africa Part II (unreleased; remixed from 4-track master)  
Shades of Africa Part III (unreleased; remixed from 4-track master)  

Today, Wali (now known as Obara Wali Rahman Ndiaye) is founder and CEO of International Afrikan-American Ballet in Brooklyn, New York.


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