New Internationalist

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Issue 388

The first appearance of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in 1981 was a watershed in Western pop music. It wasn’t even a matter of the album’s composition: Brian Eno was a non-musician whose work had always placed the studio’s potential – including tape loops and found sounds – at the heart of operations. David Byrne was the Talking Heads singer who was turning towards expanded funkadelic sounds. Combine the two visions, and you have a Bush of Ghosts that reverberates with looped-up rhythms and joyous funk basslines.

The title comes from Amos Tutuola’s 1952 novel that tells of a Nigerian boy’s encounters with a parallel world of spirits. For Eno and Byrne, the sounds of other cultures – from North African melismatic songs to exorcisms – form the parallel world. They are heard, not by white men operating as tourists, but by two artists trying to understand something about the infinite reflections of otherness in the world. This remains an important point, for there is nothing ‘exotic’ about this project.

A remastered album, there are important differences from the 1981 version. The most significant one is the addition of 7 bonus tracks to the original 11. Do the bonus tracks, many of them short, amount to a compelling reason for buying Bush of Ghosts anew? Yes. David Toop’s accompanying sleevenotes are essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the detailed musical and cultural context of the album, and from the rough-edged funk and handclaps of ‘New Feet’ to the jingling loveliness of ‘Number 8 Mix’, these are ideas in motion – and that’s always to be welcomed.

Louise Gray

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