Aug 6, 2010

Osibisa forward ever - An interview 2010


You know what is tremendous fun to me? Having my wife walk in and say, “You know, The Rock came into my work today and asked me out to lunch. But I told him I was married and that my husband is a lot better looking than him anyway. And by the way, I brought us home Ruth’s Chris steaks for dinner and, instead of getting my nails done after work I stopped by Traders and dug through all the bins to find you this copy of BTO’s ‘Street Action’ on CD.” That’s tremendous fun, right there, when that happens. But you know what else is? It’s when I realize I’m into a whole lot of different really good music and can reach into a bunch of different genres to get my jollies. Such is the fun I had when I found out the new OSIBISA album “Osee Yee” is as good as their old stuff. I was turned on, originally, to African music in general & OSIBISA in particular by my old buddy Andre’, and when he told me the latest one was more than a nod to the past, I was there. Brother let me tell you, he was right. The songs all have that insistent rhythmical structure that just makes you wanna jump out of your seat and git-down and the musicianship is right up there with the best, just like Santana did in back in “the day.” It was after grooving heavily on this, one of my favourite albums of 2009, that I decided to contact sax wizard Teddy Osei and get his take on the band, their past, present and future. Teddy proved to be a man of direct words and spirit, so let’s see how it went.

The interview

I’m going to play dumb here. Because, when it comes to the history of OSIBISA, I guess I really am! Am I correct that you’re originally from Africa and then moved to England? Could you give me a little background on yourself as well as how it all led to the formation of the band. Also, what is the origin of the name OSIBISA?

I’m originally from Ghana / West Africa. And so is Sol Amarfio (drums) and Mac Tontoh (trumpet). I was born in Kumasi (the garden city of Ghana). My interest in music started at an early age in school. In my late teens, I formed a highlife band (Comets). Comets recorded several highlife music hits from 1959 to 1962. Then I went to London, UK. I started working on fusion music with Sol and Mac, mixing highlife, jazz, rock, R&B and we were joined by 3 Caribbean musicians: Spartacus R., Wendell Richardson and Robert Bailey and then added Lasisi Amao (from Nigeria). The origin of the name OSIBISA is from Akan rhythm and a song, a tribe in Ghana… OSIBISABA.

I was turned on to the first 2 OSIBISA albums by a friend of mine and loved not only the songs but also the Santana-esque feel to some of it. Were Carlos & company an influence on you? Maybe you were an influence on them? Who are some of your influences from the past and who do you think is doing interesting music these days?

It’s really magical that SANTANA (US) and OSIBISA (UK) took the world music by storm at the same time. A lot of influences from jazz and rock musos plus the highlife greats.

For whatever reason, probably just my own stupidity (!) I lost track of OSIBISA for quite a long time. So, when I saw “Osee Yee” in the store earlier this year, it was like meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. When I heard the disc, it sounded right in step with those first few albums. How do you see the progression of OSIBISA over the years? Do you feel that “Osee Yee” is a return to an older style, as some have called it?

“Osee Yee” is a continuation of the OSIBISOUNDS and more into world music as it’s originators.

Of it’s 14 tracks, 11 are originals. What can you tell us about the 3 that aren’t? (The 2 traditional pieces you arranged and the George Harrison cover, “My Sweet Lord.”) What made you choose those? What do you think an artist should bring to someone else’s song to make doing their own version worthwhile?

The traditional pieces are arranged as musical styles from Ghana. I have always loved the song “My Sweet Lord,” by George Harrison. As far as a cover goes, an artist should bring his own feel to someone’s music, to make a difference.

The songwriting credits on the originals show participation by many different people in the band besides yourself. How does it work? Is everyone free to contribute and then you pull all the ideas, including your own, together?

Everyone is free to contribute to the song writing. Then, it is all put together.

On of the things I love about OSIBISA is that while there is a wide variety of music, from laid back & melodic to extremely high-energy, there is such an overwhelmingly positive feeling all round. Do you feel that’s important in music? Why?

You really have to feel positive and love the music you are doing. That’s the best way your listener will enjoy the music.

Pick 3 of the originals from “Osee Yee” and tell us something about their lyrical themes. That is, if you don’t mind. I have met some songwriters who don’t like to explain their lyrics.

“Life Time.” You see, time waits for no one. “Osee Yee.” This is the Akan Dialect. It is the jubilation of a successful encounter. “Ayioko.” Well-done, the power and energy of the music to make you think of The Motherland.

I understand you guys have played with a lot of artists like Stevie Wonder and The Stones, to name a few. Who stood out as making the most unique impression musically?

Musically, I would say Stevie Wonder. He is an all-round music-man. He jammed with OSIBISA playing drums at a London college gig in 1970 and on keyboards at FESTAC in Lagos in 1977.

What kind of touring has OSIBISA done recently, in support of “Osee Yee?” Any chance of you guys ever getting to the Baltimore Maryland area? Is there a lot of opportunity for you guys to play in Africa?

In support of “The Best Of” and “Osee Yee,” OSIBISA did a tour of India in late 2009. This year we will start with a launch party of the 2 albums on February 27, 2010 at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and follow-up festivals in Germany. OSIBISA would like to have a show in Baltimore because the last time was in the ‘70’s. There are lots of opportunities for the band to play in Africa. African countries we’ve played in are: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Gabon, South Africa, Senegal, Liberia and more.

Have you been able to make a living with OSIBISA or do you do other things to supplement your income as well?

My source of income is OSIBISA… live performances, performing, song writing and music publishing (Osibisounds Ltd.)

Big halls and crowds or small, intimate venue? What do you prefer as a performer and why?

For performances, I actually don’t have a preference, big halls or small…just to make the people happy.

What’s next for OSIBISA? Any new recordings on the agenda?

Let’s see how this new one goes. And see what the good Lord brings. OSIBISA FORWARD EVER.

I really love hearing the kind of focused, driven vision a guy like Teddy has for his music and his band that’s been treading the boards and working the studio for this long, having rubbed shoulders with people like Stevie W & The Stones and who is a contemporary of Carlos Santana. Believe me, you need to do yourself a favour and if you’ve never heard OSIBISA, go out tomorrow and buy the new album “Osee Yee,” the new “Best Of” and while you’re at it, the re-issued first 2 albums. Chances are, you’ll fall in love with a whole new genre of music. That’s tremendous fun!


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