Sep 6, 2009
Sila and the Afro-Funk Experience - Funkiest Man In Africa
As a child growing up in a small village in Kenya, Sila remembers tuning in to a shortwave radio for the latest pop offerings from the West. By way of a faint, crackling radio signal, Sila first became acquainted with the guttural howls and shrieks of the Minister of Funk.
“One of the first James Brown songs I remember hearing on shortwave radio was ‘I Feel Good.’ Growing up very poor in my village and having a song like that play on the radio was very inspiring,” Sila, 32, says.
His exposure to James Brown, along with such artists as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Fela Kuti and Bob Marley, inspired Sila to pursue music, which he says was far from a well-respected profession in Africa.
Despite his career choice, his parents supported his decision and sold cows and goats to raise money for his send-off to the U.S.
Sila’s pursuit of musical stardom was met with the heartbreak of rejection and he eventually found himself lost, an imposter of sorts, singing pedestrian pop tunes while trying to mask a heavy Kenyan accent.
It wasn’t until he stumbled upon a sold-out show by African artist Baaba Maal at the Fillmore that he realized he needed to change course.
“This was the first African artist I saw in concert singing in his own language. He was so full of life. This was the most touching experience for me and I was almost in tears. I had really forgotten who I was,” he says.
Embracing his African roots and his love of funk, Sila channeled James Brown for inspiration and six years later, with the help of his renowned cast of bandmates, he’s achieved success without having to compromise his heritage (he sings in both Swahili and English) or his musical tastes.
“James Brown has always been someone who’s influenced me quite a bit. From his perseverance to his political life and his very poor background, it’s all been an inspiration to me. … His determination and the fact that he never gave up — I see that in me,” Sila says.
“When I came here I never imagined I would sell out venues and entertain people in a way that James Brown entertained me. Believe me, I’m not saying I’m the next James Brown, but I do feel he’s in the soul of music.”
Sila sings of the African experience: the problems he and many others face every day, in a language understood throughout the world. His lyrics and beats reflect the music, the language, the energy, and the spirit of growing up in Africa.
Sila is backed by Mike Pitre on trumpet, Andre Webb on trombone, David Boyce on saxophone, bassist Wendell Rand, Bennie Murray on drums, guitarists Ken House and David James, djembe player Karamba, and talking drum player Samba Guisse.
The sounds that most of us know as Afrobeat are born out of the crowded streets of West African cities like Lagos, Accra and Abidjan. Combining the polyrhythmic percussion of indigenous West African music with Fenders and brass, Afrobeat trundled up from the underground to denounce dictatorship, corruption and oppression while still treating dancers and music fans to a seriously good time. Sila, hailing from the East African nation of Kenya, has the same mission, but named his own brand of music Afrofunk, an updated sound that incorporates more trace elements of hip-hop and soul. Sila and his Afro Funk Experience are in the energy exchange business: you give it up, they give it back with interest---no bribes involved. Try that trick with a Nigerian policeman.
As a musically inclined child growing up in a village in Kenya, Victor Sila whiled away the days singing the traditional songs of his ancestors, as well humming tunes by Prince, Otis Redding and the Beatles. Now living in the United States, Sila still crosses genre lines with his band the Afrofunk Experience. He sings in English and Swahili while the band weaves its way through African and Afro-Latin rhythms, reggae skank and hip-hop swagger.
Sila and the Afrofunk Experience create music that's like a rubber band ricocheting back and forth across decades and continents. African artists and rhythms influenced many American artists like James Brown and Prince, who the band then listened to and fused with African sounds. Sila leads a talented group of musicians who draw on diverse influences to form a solid, Africanized world beat groove. This group has played with everyone from Spearhead to Ballet National du Senegal. The lineup contains: on djembe, Samba Guisse, on bass SF native Wendell Rand, on horns is the inimitable Mike Pitre, Tai Kenning on drums, guitars by Ken House and David James, percussion by Elvis Nensah, and Jeremiah Kpoh on turntables.
What sets Sila apart more than his voice, his band leadership, or his take on the music is the way he uses all of it to give back to the world. The band is coming off a recent benefit whose profits went to the Save the Children Fund for children in Darfur, Sudan. Sila's blog (http://victorsila.com/afrofunk/index.php) keeps tabs on what our government is doing (or not doing) to help resolve the current crisis, and also celebrates the small victories won along the journey.
This hodgepodge of sound is sure to leave the dancefloor at Great American Music Hall sweating and smiling. In Sila's words "When it comes down to it, all that matters is the music."
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