This guitar-slinging duo from the Côte d’Ivoire sought to combine West African folk styles with American country music. Pulling harmonicas, twangy guitar riffs, and gentle, plunking bass-lines bring a flavor to their songs that is equal parts Spaghetti Western to classic ‘70s singer-songwriter. Their vocal harmonies are soulfully delivered; their melodies sing like well-crafted pop country hooks. Yet, Jess Sah Bi & Peter One sound original and genuine, never imitative.
Our Garden Needs Its Flowers was a hit tape in West Africa when it came out in 1985. Its muted recording quality and uncanny resemblance to late ‘60s and ‘70s honky tonk is disarming and special because it’s clear Our Garden was made many, many miles from the Laurel Canyon. Peter One still makes music and on his website, it’s no surprise he cites Simon & Garfunkel, CSNY, and Creedence Clearwater Revival as influences for Our Garden. Even album’s cover—acoustic guitar cradled in a rocking chair—is a funny nod to home-on-the-range, singing-cowboy swagger. However Jess Sah Bi & Peter One’s rocking chair sits on a dirt patch amongst tropical vegetation rather than in a shotgun house on a stark, quiet prairie.
The tape’s eight tracks are all worthwhile listens—slow, tranquil, hopeful, sung mostly in French. Unlike much of the introspective singer-songwriter stuff they reference, Jess Sah Bi & Peter One’s tunes do the work of the socially conscious folk song. On the title track (sung in English), they sing “Let’s be what we are, what we are/Whatever our appearances may be/Let’s sing peace and love.” “Apartheid” calls for equality and justice between blacks and whites. “African Chant” extends their general message of peace to all of the African peoples troubled by social problems and political instability similar to the situation in The Ivory Coast. Listen to “Kango” and “Solution” below, and for more, the always excellent Awesome Tapes From Africa uploaded Our Garden in its entirety. words/a spoto