Blo were a trio from Nigeria, the name an acronym of the founding members’ names – Berkely ‘Ike’ Jones on guitar, Laolu ‘Akins’ Akintobi on drums and Mike ‘Gbenga’ Odumosu on bass. Accruing fame over the years for their unique blend of afro-beat, funk, rock and psychedelia, they are also notable for being the first rock trio to emerge from Africa.
The band members got their first taste of music in a high school band from Lagos, Nigeria, called The Clusters which Akintobi remembers as being more a group of youths getting together and living their dreams of being pop stars than a serious musical endeavour. In their beginnings they took inspiration from the British rock invasion spearheaded by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as well as the funk of James Brown before moving to a blend of afro-rock and highlife following an encounter with Gerald Pino’s The Heartbeats Band from Sierra Leone, who at the time were mixing rumba with soul and rock. The Clusters ended up supporting Pino’s band who also impacted them by the equipment he’d brought into the country.
In 1970 the three members left The Clusters and joined the band Afrocollection alongside the Lijadus sisters, a band put together by Swiss musician Tee Mac who at the time also worked with Silver Collection. It was during this time that Jones, Akintobi and Odumosu would meet Ginger Baker who was visiting Nigeria in the early 70s and found them during one of their Sunday matinee sessions in the heart of Lagos Island. Baker jammed with them and proved so enamoured with the work during this first visit to Nigeria that he decided to form an all-African group on his second visit, adding two British horn players to the mix. The group became known as Ginger Baker and Salt, forming in the first half of 1972 and rehearsing for months before embarking on a world tour that started at Fela Kuti’s Afro Spot in Yaba, Lagos and then went on to include shows in Europe, Canada and the USA. Upon the band’s return to Nigeria in October 1972 they disbanded and the trio decided to form Blo.
Blo’s formation wasn’t just accidental or spontaneous. Having worked together and become friends over the years, upon their return to Nigeria the three members discussed the need to have a new concept, new formation and radical approach to how African groups had formed and operated until now. A desire to be original and different in both their sound and image led to their formation as a trio, the first of its kind in Africa where most bands followed an orchestral format. Their sound, it was decided, would also be entirely original with no copying and a combination of rock with African influences in the rhythms and songs. This unique sonic approach ultimately led to their music being tagged as afro-rock by the media of the times.
Following their first performance as Blo in December 1972 in front of 10,000 people at Onikan Stadium – the largest audience in Nigerian music’s history – they released a debut album, Chapter One, on EMI in early 1973. The album featured the trio’s unique blend of rock, funk and psychedelic influences merged with their African traditions. Recorded and performed entirely as a trio it would go on to become one of the most sought after African records of its time despite performing poorly and ultimately leading to their switching from EMI to Decca subsidiary Afrodesia, who released their second album, Phase II, in 1975.
On Phase II the band brought in a number of other session musicians to handle keyboards and congas following a decision to enrich the music without needing to expand the band’s line up. As Akintobi recalls Phase II was recorded in nine sessions of 12 hours each. Later in 1975 they released their third album, Step Three, with a change in line up that saw the O in Blo, Odumosu, leave to join Osibisa and replaced with Billy ‘Oladele’ Wright who played bass as well as saxophone. In addition to this change in line up Tunde Williams, from Fela Kuti’s 70s band, also played trumpet on the Step Three album sessions and the band had an external producer, Keith Whitting, assigned by their label. This resulted in an album that was markedly different from their previous records, wider in scope.
The third album gamble unfortunately did not pay off and once again the band suffered poor album sales leaving Jones and Akintobi to call it quits. The pair moved to London to study screenwriting and sound production. It is there that they met with session musician Otu Odufa who suggested they put the band back together. This led to the release of Phase IV in 1976. The album featured Odumosu on the cover, and while he was no longer a member of the band he supposedly provided backing vocals on the record. The band then released a further two records, Bulky Backside in 1980 and Back In Time in 1982, before finally disbanding for good.
Upon their return to Nigeria in 1982 they set up a production company, BLO Productions, which recorded hits and supported local artists. Jones then left music behind and became a property developer in Lagos, Wright passed away, Odumosu settled in London following his days with Osibisa and Akintobi continues to work as a producer, running an independent music production service in Lagos and working as a counsellor for young artists.