Feb 5, 2010
Calabash Afrobeat-Poems by Ikwunga Vol.1
Ikwunga has recorded a seminal concept album with a distinctly original African feel. Calabash Vol.1 brings together a superb collection of Ikwunga's poetry married with a satiny Afrobeat.
Ikwunga, an American Board Certified Psychiatrist and the son of a famous West African poet and tribal Chief, is unarguably the first afrobeat poet and the original creator of this unique addition to the afro-beat pantheon and to the burgeoning spoken word genre.
The poetry is easy to follow rhythmically and linguistically. Content can vary from the intensely political (leaning heavily towards pan-Africanism) to the love poem 'I don love' a hauntingly moving appeal to a lover who has yet to make up her mind.
Afrobeat, the music of the legendary Nigerian musician and sage, Fela Kuti, is clearly a huge influence on both Ikwunga and his superb backing band led and produced by Dele Sosimi (former keyboardist of Fela Kuti's Egypt 80 Band, and musical director of Femi Kuti's Positive Force Band). Ikwunga and Dele, previously fellow performers at Kuti's, famous night club, The Shrine in Lagos, have produced an album that can be enjoyed at many levels. Ikwunga is a fresh, urgent and lyrical voice in African poetry and the poems themselves are beautifully reproduced in the elegant presentation of this CD. These narrative poems have a distinctly African rhythm and can be enjoyed independently on sleeve notes. However Dele Sosimi captures the rhythm of the spoken word and provides the perfect accompanying music allowing the listener to enjoy the poetry while feeling the Afrobeat permeate his or her body. An excellent combination, which repays repeated listening, Calabash Vol. 1 leaves us eagerly awaiting Vol.2.
Proceeds from Ikwunga's Calabash series will partly fund the creation of The African Alliance for the Mentally Ill (TAAMI), a non-profit organization that will generate public awareness of mental illness in African communities, and advocate for mental health services treatment and research.
Calabash is the first volume of Afrobeat Poems. Afrobeat poetry utilizes Pidgin English and its idiomatic infusions of English and vernacular Nigerian languages as a medium to reach the listener/reader. The presentation of the poetry with the background of Afrobeat music gives this genre an authentic and fresh appeal. Consistent with the music of Fela Kuti, the legendary originator of Afrobeat, this collection stands true to Afrobeat philosophy: raise pan-African consciousness while entertaining the audience. In Calabash, Ikwunga in collaboration with Dele Sosimi, Femi Elias, and Justin Thurgur, have produced a unique fusion of Spoken Word, African style call- and- answer recital, with a new contemporary Afrobeat.
"The title pretty much says it all. This is a veritably embroidered calabash of poetry stewing in sweet afrobeat concoctions; a stunning debut and an indication of great things to come. Calabash Vol. 1 finds Ikwunga delivering a set of fresh verses on longstanding concerns. Much of the material here is as long on poetry as it is on titilating music, a provocative mix of pedestrian pidgin and sound that most people will be hearing for the first time. Ikwunga's raw delivery and Dele Sosimi's minimalist Afro-Chill constructions make this a winning disc."
"Ikwunga Wonodi's Calabash Afrobeat Poems is an invitation to all lovers of good music. Brilliantly enriched with the infusion of poetry, Calabash...skillfully meshes Afrobeat music with skillfully constructed lyrics suffused with conscious messages and stories. Wonodi's voice, though often fluctuating, resonates the kind of tone that should grab the attention of fans familiar with Afrobeat music and music inspired by poetry. His style, though influenced by Nigerian/West African pigeon English, is reminiscent of vocalization by Gill Scott, Les Nubians, MC Solaar and Mutabaruka. Cuts such as "I don love", "Go Slow" and "Da Bomb" are obvious classics. Brilliant effort for a first album!!"
The calabash is an annual vine (Lagenaria siceraria) having white flowers and smooth, large, hard-shelled gourds often pressed into service as containers, utensils, or-in West Africa, among other locales-as musical instruments. Calabash is also the title of the first volume of Afrobeat musician and poet Ikwunga Wonodi’s domestic CD release on Rebisi-hut Records (www.rebisihut.com). Ikwunga, a Nigerian-born assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine says, “Calabash is in many ways a concept album; [a] fusion of spoken word with African-style call-and-answer dialogue and western-style rhymes, and a new contemporary chilling Afrobeat. Calabash is poetry, contemporary African artistic design, and music in one.”
The CD provides many avenues for the uninitiated to arrive at an appreciation of this contemporary amalgam of styles. Afrobeat-the innovative 1960s cocktail of African highlife music, with its western and Christian musical connections, and jazz, with bits of James Brown funk-has had a high profile in the West since the 1970s under the genre’s standard-bearer, Fela Kuti. The enigmatic Kuti casts a long shadow across all West African musicians, but Ikwunga’s bona fides are securely in place: As a young medical doctor, his band regularly opened for Fela’s son, Femi, at the Afrika Shrine, Lagos’ legendary nightclub. The Shrine’s audience, accustomed to instrumental jams, responded to his patois with jeers and boos. “They called me ‘Di Poet’!” laughs Ikwunga. Other members of Femi’s band Positive Force, including former Fela Kuti keyboardist (and Calabash producer) Dele Sosimi, “informed me that this was what I should expect delivering a new style and that I should keep at it.” He would interrupt the music, charm the hecklers, and press on.
The smooth jazz sound of Calabash retains the texture of the Nigerian sound and instruments; but it is the anticolonial political content-consistent with the history of Afrobeat music from its inception-that joins with Ikwunga’s contemporary, American hip-hop and beat poetry stylings to create a surprising fusion that is strong yet easy on the ears. The artist cites dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson as an influence, one that is clear in “Di Bombs,” the album’s third track, a vernacular pidgin English selection that traces the parallels between slavery and modern war-making in the first and third worlds. Ikwunga is mindful of Johnson’s and the elder Kuti’s relations with the American Black Panther party, updating the music’s heritage for a twenty-first century audience.
In the end, though, this self-styled herald of pan-Africanism is less doctrinaire and more compassionate than his musical forbears: He is a man involved with the grassroots establishment of The African Alliance for the Mentally Ill (TAAMI) in Nigeria, an organization devoted to public health efforts to raise awareness, provide access to resources, and be an advocate for the stigmatized and afflicted in his homeland. Fela Kuti famously characterized music as a weapon, but, in the hands of Ikwunga, it is a weapon against sickness as much as a weapon against injustice.
01. Intro & Kola Nut
02. I Don Love
03. Di Bombs
04. Go Slow
05. Bad Belle
06. Ikeru (creation)
08. Di Bombs Instrumental (Dele Sosimi Cut)
Labels: Ikwunga the Afrobeat Poet