Jul 22, 2010
“I say YAABA, you say-” “FUNK!” The resounding response reverberated off the walls, shouted by a charged crowd who hadreduced Brixton’s spacious The Rest is Noise wine bar to a standing-room-only venue. The spirited call out started with Richmond Kessie, percussionist and lead vocalist for the celebrated high life/afrobeat/funk band, Yaaba Funk.
The band, renowned for tearing up dance floors with their energised and percussion-heavy live performances, was launching their debut album, Afrobeast. Earlier in the day I met up with Kessie and Paul Brett (bass and percussion) to find out how the band came together and how they managed to wrestle their incredible live sound on to a record.
How did the band get its name?
I first came into this country when I was about 16 in 1981 and for about eight or nine years I didn’t listen to any African music whatsoever, it was all about pop and rock music. One day I just happened to be out walking and passed Sterns (world music shop), and popped in there. The first record I saw was an album called Ancestral Music from Africa. I didn’t like African music at the time but bought it purely for its appearance. The second album I bought in there was an album by someone called Captain Yaaba and the album was called Yaaba Funk. So in a way Sterns are responsible for the beginning of Yaaba Funk.
How has the band evolved over the years?
Most of us met in the African drumming / African dance scene in London. Richmond used to play with Agido, a pan African dance ensemble. Members also used to play samba not just African drums. It first started at parties where we used to say ‘Let’s have a bit of a jam,’ we’d set up all these drums and percussion instruments. The DJ would get the crowd going then we’d come on and play. Then I was like, ‘I’ve got a wicked keyboard and it’s got a really fat baseline’ so we started using that, then Richmond started singing, soon we thought, ‘we might as well have some guitar.’ Gradually we added a couple of horns, then Helen came on as another vocalist.
Yaaba Funk is a bit like a hoover, we go around picking up new musicians. Initially it was just 15 drummers and Paul on the bass, there wasn’t any singing.
Proper drum and bass.
It’s grown organically; it wasn’t a conscious decision to start a band.
How did you decide on highlife?
I like to think highlife was chosen because I’m from Ghana, but it was always going to be something African because we’re all drummers. The first song we played as a band was ‘Hwe Hwe,’ we’d play it at parties and people would love it. Then Paul suggested we start writing our own songs.
I’ve always been much more interested in creating original music although there are so many great tunes from the 1970s and 1980s. There’s always a temptation to say ‘Oh this is a great tune, let’s do a version of that!’ But we’ve got a lot of ideas and there have been a lot of influences since then that we bring into our music like dub, reggae, broken-beat, house, a bit of rock and funk.
How important was it to have a recorded version of what is essentially a live musical genre?
We’ve been around for about four years and in that time there’s been continuous talk of this album coming out. We made a promotional EP and it sounded a little too produced, fans who’d seen us on stage said, ‘This doesn’t sound like you.’ We decided next time we’d try to recreate what we do on stage. We spent two days rehearsing the songs on the album, then we went into the studio, set it all up and just recorded it as if it were live. We had dividers in there to try and separate the sound a little bit and the vocals and horns were added later but we tried to capture as much of the live feel as we could. Once you start mixing you lose certain aspects of it but overall I think we’ve done really well.
Highlife has some very political roots. Were there any political points you wanted to make?
Richmond: Kalabule Man criticizes politicians. It talks about the bad things they do and how they cheat people even referencing Fela Kuti’s songs. The lyrics – ‘They call him Mister Preacher man, they call him Mister Reverend Man, but we call him the Kalabule Man’ – talks about how religion can sometimes take over people’s lives, and steal their money. I got the line from a church that my aunt took me to. She couldn’t give birth so she went to this priest and the priest basically said if you sleep with me then you’ll be blessed.
The idea for Nyash! E Go Bite You!! came to me when I heard Tony Blair talking about weapons of mass destruction. While he was speaking his face had a little grin. When I was young my grandfather had a saying:’If you meet an animal and it doesn’t mean to do you any harm it will not show you its teeth’. Seeing Tony Blair on there talking about WMDs I just made the link.
The album’s not all about politics though. Oman Foa celebrates Ghana’s fiftieth anniversary, which is a month away and Hwe Hwe Mu Na Yi is a love song.
How did you select the traditional Ghanaian songs you covered?
Bukom Mashie is a former-day dance floor killer. What we did with it isn’t far from the original—it’s a bit of a mash up between the original and a traditional Ga song—it’s old meets new. Hwe Hwe is a classic which we completely changed.
Why did you dedicate the first track to BBC Broadcaster Charlie Gillett?
We’d already finished the album when he died in March and we were sad because we’d listened to his show and he was someone who used to play all the world music. I can remember going out the next day to buy records I’d heard on his show. We were disappointed he’d never got to hear the album and decided to dedicate something to him. Richmond said the first track (Me Nye Dofo) was the most appropriate because it says ‘Appreciate what you have because it might not always be there. ‘
I never met him but because of his radio show I felt like I knew him. I used to record his shows on cassette and go back and listen to them.
There have been so many variations on highlife from afrobeat to hiplife. Do you feel like you’re creating your own hybrid offshoot of highlife?
We like to call it Grimelife. I’m not playing a bass guitar which means I can get a lot of sounds on the bass synthesizer that give our music that grime feel. In the UK we make bass music, whether that be drum and bass, garage, dub step—I was like, let’s put this bass underneath the high life and add a different sound. We’ve grown up in London so we’re not going to be mellow because London’s not a very mellow place it’s quite edgy. I think we bring a bit of that edge to it.
I think music has to evolve and if Fela hadn’t taken highlife and done what he did with it it would have remained static. I think we’d be doing him a disservice if we just took the sound and emulated and didn’t do anything to it. We’re just trying to bring it into the twenty-first century and wake people up to the fact that at one point in the 1960s or 1970s it was the music of Africa. Why should it be relegated to a museum?
High life isn’t considered hip in its homeland. Do you hope to reignite interest in African music with African youths?
Absolutely! Back home, whatever is flavour of the month in the West is what they’ll latch on to. You go to Ghana and you see really fantastic musicians, drummers especially, but once they become successful they start using drum machines. For me the idea is to create a buzz around highlife over here so that it’ll be picked up by people back home. It’s alright doing hiplife but where does the ‘life’ in there come from? They just seem to have forgotten it.
It’s a shame because I guess it’s cheaper to get a drum machine and a synthesizer rather than getting a 12-piece band, but it’s just not the same.
We’re never going to be able to program hip hop beats like the Americans because it’s not us. Similarly with reggae, Jamaicans are better at it. Some of the old artists do interesting things with it but the majority of African reggae is just so bland compared to where it’s come from.
What’s next for Yaaba Funk?
I think next year we’re going to tackle Europe. France has got a very strong African music scene; I think they’re more open to African and African-Caribbean music than the UK which is more cutting edge. We’ve also got a next album of material pretty much ready.
We’ve more or less captured London. It’ll be good to take the sound out of London and possibly into Africa. I’d love to take Yaaba Funk to Ghana and Nigeria. We’ve got ideas about recording the next album in Ghana and maybe involving some of the old highlife giants if we can. Do some kind of a Buena Vista Social Club type thing.
Jul 21, 2010
Fela: The Life and Times of controversial Afrobeat superstar.
Heart failure and AIDS-related causes cited in his death.
Special Report by Chido Nwangwu, USAfricaonline.com
Summary of this essay:
The African continent's most creative Afrobeat superstar, anti-military dictatorship activist, social maverick and pan-Africanist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has died of AIDS-related reasons and heart failure. Fela's 58 years old, odd but very courageous engagement with life was as controversial, irreverent, creative as he was sometimes confusing to even his most ardent admirers. His social promiscuity and hyper-sexual relationships with women, mainly his retinue of dancers were, at once, revolting to many, as he was also an object of curiosity for all manner of people, Americans and Europeans, Africans and Arabs, men and women.
He was a genius, albeit, for lack of a better word, a usefully mad genius, a creative iconoclast.
Fela's genius as a musician had an unmatched stellar power, may be an acute acoustic
verve and caustic provocations to the powers that be. The military in Nigeria feared only one man in Nigeria: Fela. Fela is dead, alright; but his music lives on. Long live Fela, Long Live the King of Afro-beat!
Mon, 4 Aug 1997: The African continent's most creative Afrobeat superstar, anti-military dictatorship activist, social maverick and pan-Africanist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has died of AIDS-related reasons and heart failure. "The immediate cause of death of Fela was heart failure but there were many complications
arising from the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome,'' Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a medical doctor and Fela's older brother told a news conference in Lagos on Sunday August 3, 1997 announcing the death of a musical giant, social commentator and maestro.
Fela's 58 years old, odd but very courageous engagement with life was as controversial, irreverent, creative as he was sometimes confusing to even his most ardent admirers. His social promiscuity and hyper-sexual relationships with
women, mainly his retinue of dancers were, at once, revolting to many, as he was also an object of curiosity for all manner of people, Americans and Europeans, Africans and Arabs, men and women. He was a genius, albeit, for lack of a better word, a usefully mad genius, a creative iconoclast.
In my opinion, there was just one Fela; there has never been any like him in his country; there will really never be another like him. Fela's imprints on the sand of our social time are permanent. Although Fela's (ab)use of drugs (hemp)did not help his health and focus on the other things that were important. He could have been better. But to some, it was all part of his eccentricities, a part of his mystique
as Fela Anikulapo Kuti! No.
The king of Afro-beat, the guru of strategic irreverence and pan Africanism, the master exponent of "Shakara" and the enchanting saxophonic rhythms and synthesizers which waft through his classic song "Lady" has joined his ancestors but his views on everyday, existential matters are relevant today across Africa. Fela, the king of
socio-musical commentary is no more; one of the best jazzologists and creators of the most compelling and inimitable ethno-orchestra sessions of the 20th century is
dead but his call that Africans get beyond "colonial mentality" and anti-corruption songs "Yellow Fever" are entirely valid.
Coincidentally, a few hours after his death, I had the privileged of being the guest of creative events photographer Richard Dabon's at the Omni Hotel this August 3 weekend for the 1997 Houston Mayor's Jazz Brunch. Tunes reminiscent of Fela's saxophonic vitality and energies were played occasionally at the event. May be only a few persons at the Omni would have known the giant had passed. It all seemed like an unscheduled, unmentioned tribute to Fela-- with the likes of the very remarkable South African Jonathan Butler doing an incredible, elevating live jam session with the Houston Jazz Education All Stars. Fela would have been proud. But is he proud of the country (Nigeria) he left, dying of AIDS-related complications? Does anyone really know what the statistic and measures to make Nigerians and other Africans safe from the AIDS virus? What will happen to the hundreds, yes, hundreds of women who made a different kind of (bed) sheet music" with Fela? Is jazz, especially Afro-jazz, today in the African continent, in Black America and the rest of the world better than when his likes put the genre on the globe? Is his country, Nigeria, moving towards what he hoped for in his music and views? In fact, it must be asked did he contribute to the decay of the country's morals and direction by his multiple sexual devotions? Fela was no angel or saint, to be sure. But Fela's genius as a musician had an unmatched stellar power, may be an acute acoustic verve and caustic provocations to the powers that be.
His courage to speak his truth, his strong, unvarnished views to the face of power and "all dem oppressors" will be missed by millions of other Africans and people of the world. He remained a tower of guts, even while his pants were barely on!
According to USAfrica The Newspaper's correspondents in Lagos , the death of Fela has left a mournful pall over the country while soaring sales for his records/compact discs. A Lagosian, Adetiba Omowale told one of our reporters "this is
the death of an original, an African original. Fela was unequalled." Ikenna Ibeneme said "he was the best. He had style and guts."
He died on Saturday August 2, 1997 after several weeks of illness at the age of 58. Fela resided in Ikeja, operated and played at a famous joint called "The Shrine." He has toured the U.S (including our city, Houston) and dozens of European cities.
Before his death, Fela refused treatment for his deteriorating health. He rejected both Western and traditional Nigerian medical services insisting it was on grounds of "principle." The Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency led by Gen. Bamayi tried without success to stop him from using marijuana with threats of legal incarceration.
After their efforts failed the NDLEA agents released (see USAfrica The Newspaper April 25 1997 edition).
Remarkably, and unusually too, Fela has not made major, if any, effort to challenge or criticize Nigeria's current military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha, despite the fact one of his brothers, Beko Ransome-Kuti, a democracy activist, is serving a prison sentence for involvement in an alleged "coup plot." Beko Ransome-Kuti turned his 57 the same Saturday Fela died. He is reportedly removed from news and radio access. He has also been actively opposed to military dictatorships in Nigeria.
Fela's social and political activism led to his forming a political party called Movement of the People (MOP) during Nigeria's militarily aborted attempt by civilians in 1978/79 and the early 1980s to establish a democratic government.
Fela never shied away, until few years before his death, from stating his opposition to military men and ordinary soldiers whom he referred to, pejoratively, as "zombies". He paid for his vocal, and critical stance. Even his mother, a noted nationalist was a victim of military-police brutality.
Jailed presidential claimant Moshood K.O Abiola did not escape the lethal, no-holds-barred and bazooka-like biting attacks on Nigeria's ruling class from Fela. In fact he called Abiola "a Thief" while categorizing the ITT for which Abiola served its interests in Nigeria and the Middle East as nothing more than "International Thief, Thief." That was simply a tip of Fela's acerbic directness. His kinsman and now detained former head of state of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo did not escape his peppery barb.
Fela is dead, alright; but his music lives on. Long live Fela, Long Live the King of Afro-beat.
Special Report by Chido Nwangwu, USAfricaonline.com
Jul 20, 2010
hopteeth is a two-year old, 14 piece Afrofunk"spectacle" big band with expansive sound, featuring five horns and powerful vocals. Chopteeth aims to recapture the sound of the 1970s Afrobeat dance bands but add more variety. Recently nominated for a Washington Area Music Association WAMMIE award in the Best World Music group category, Chopteeth also played for a crowd of 15,000 at the January 2007 inauguration of Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.
How did Chopteeth get started?
It was Robert [Fox]'s vision. He told me on a camping trip that he was switching from guitar to bass to do Afrobeat. I agreed it was a good idea, thinking, "Right. No way." And Robert's Robert, so it happened. He's become accomplished on bass.
At first we didn't know whether we were just hanging around and playing or going out to get gigs. The band's growth was an organic process. Chopteeth grew fast. It's been a joy and a surprise.
Where did the name Chopteeth come from?
The name Chopteeth comes from a song by Fela [Kuti]. It refers to someone who eats his own teeth, a crazy person. Mark Corrales came up with that name for the band because he said we're insane to think we can do this.
Who is Chopteeth's primary audience?
I wouldn't say we had a primary audience; I'd call it a niche. We appeal to an older crowd. We play stuff people can remember, music Africans danced to back in the 70s. We played at the 9:30 Club, opening up for Jam Boys. We played for the Nigerian Youth Festival. Africans who come to hear us enjoy seeing Chopteeth perform African songs well. I love to see the grandparents dancing with their grandkids.
I guess you'd say our audience is world music fans. [Our music] is about getting people to move. We're a big spectacle with lots of horns.
What distinguishes Chopteeth from other bands playing West African music?
We're different from the Afrobeat bands because we play Afrobeat but we don't focus on it. And most white groups doing Afrobeat don't sing much. Singing Fela is like touching fire in Nigeria. It's pretty bold. With the happy guitar dance styles like sukous... no one else has a fourteen piece band that lays it down like that. Our enormity is what sets us apart.
What is the most rewarding part for the musicians about playing the music Chopteeth plays?
For me, when we're playing and rockin' it, it sounds good, there's a good crowd, everybody's dancing, nothing else matters. We're creating a party.
How important is dance to the music Chopteeth plays?
We have played shows where room is tight. That's no good. There's gotta be a dance floor.
What has been the most challenging aspect of building this band?
A lot of the band members are in other bands. They have families. It's difficult to get everybody together and get tight. The sheer number makes it harder than with four to five piece bands. Once we get there, it's righteous.
Has Chopteeth produced any CDs?
Not yet. We will definitely have a CD by mid to late summer.
How is the recording process going?
The biggest challenges to recording a CD are money and scheduling. If you record at a studio, like we started to do, you get one shot and if you want to redo a solo, you have to pay to go in and do it again. The scheduling to get all fourteen band members and the studio people there at once is a nightmare.
I have my own studio being built in my house and we're going to finish the recording there. This music needs to be done in a guerrilla style, with the right atmosphere. It should not be too polished.
Does it matter whether Chopteeth has a CD in terms of building its reputation and getting gigs?
It makes a difference as to the band's progress. Intraband, lots of good faith gets built up. Recording a CD helps us stay organized and keep people around. People are waiting to get busy on our CD. Right now, Chopteeth will travel to Annapolis, Baltimore and Philadelphia but nowhere else until we have a CD. We need CD sales to make money with a band this size. People who hire us usually assume we have a CD... And we are getting good gigs. The reason for that being we're so unique, a fourteen piece Afrofunk band. So, I don't think a CD will help us locally with booking.
Does an up and coming band like Chopteeth need a promoter?
We have a manager, Tom Carrico, not a promoter or booker. But Tom does a little of both of those things. When we have a high profile gig coming up, he gets the word out to the magazines and newspapers.
How do you get booking agents to pay attention to Chopteeth, among all the competition?
There is no competition. We're unique because of the kind of music we play. The challenge is that no one wants a fourteen piece opening band because of the logistics. We're sensitive to that. We try to get on and off the stage quickly. Once people hear Chopteeth, they're asking when they can have us back. We played the Black Cat with Konono [No.1].. The 9:30 Club wants us back. Slowly people are getting onto us.
Does Chopteeth play any original tunes?
We'll have about 4 by our next shows.
Who writes the original tunes?
I sketch out the parts and bring them to the group. Sometimes I do the lyrics, sometimes someone else adds them. The group plays the parts I've sketched out and tweaks them a bit to fit their own style.
The two original tunes Chopteeth has been playing for more than a year have been very well received. They're fresh. We have another original coming up. It's called Weigh Your Blessings.
Do you play any of the local outdoor festivals?
We get to start just before the headliner Chuck Brown at the National Barbecue Festival. We'll be playing at the Alexandria Jazz Festival, the Takoma Park Street Festival, and Adams Morgan Day. On the 4th of July, we'll be on the back of a flatbed truck in the Takoma Park 4th of July parade.
Do people comment on the fact that so many Chopteeth band members playing this West African music are Caucasian? How do you respond?
People do react to us being Caucasian. It would bother me if they didn't come hear us because of that. People start the night with their arms folded over their chest at the back of the room but they're on the dance floor by the end of the first set. We do it right, that's the focus. People who don't get it, I'm not sure why they think it. I've sat through countless African bands playing reggae and pop tunes and singing in English when I was living in Africa and never once questioned it. To people wondering about white middle aged guys playing Afrofunk, I'd say give it a shot, try us out, come and dance.
What are the major frustrations Chopteeth has faced?
Getting a CD done has been the major frustration.
When Chopteeth is asked to play with another band, what criteria do you use to decide if the two bands are a good complement to one another? Or do they need to be?
Bands don't want an opening band just like them because it fatigues the audience. We've created Afrofunk Forum hoping to draw out more African musicians in the area. Afrofunk Forum began as an online blog. After awhile it was getting a lot of hits and we decided to get a club date in DC at DC 9.We've done it in November, January and we're doing it again on April 12.
You used to have a great lead singer, Eme Awa, who moved on to other projects. How does his loss affect Chopteeth? Did you redefine yourselves after he left?
The loss was rather abrupt. We had a few shows we couldn't nail down. It was mutual, but it left us in the lurch. We had some high profile shows coming up, and our repertoire was based around him. Eme was a great showman and a visual focal point. When he left we had to either go for our C list or have someone step up and sing. I started singing, and we added a female singer, Kim Lannear. After Eme left, it became more of a collective. I do vocals leads now, and Kim and Anna [Mwalagho] are out front. Anna's always been in but not all in. She is a poet first, then a dancer, and she sings a few songs. She infuses everything with a huge amount of energy. Justine [Miller] also sings and Trevor [Specht]. Our new material is based around this.
How does the diversity of the band members' musical experiences- from gospel to rock and jazz- affect the band?
As long as they come to the table with groove sensibility, and all throw in their own flavor, it's okay. But you don't want people to stray from the groove. You need to be organized.
Chopteeth recently played at the inauguration of DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. What was that experience like? Is a high profile gig like that helpful in promoting the band? Do people who see you there remember you and come to see you again?
The Fenty gig had to be rescheduled because President Ford died. They were scrambling, so it wasn't a great sound situation, but cool. The crowd was with us. It was the biggest room I've ever been in in my life. They say the crowd was 15,000. But it's no different playing in front of them than a DC 9 show. Make eye contact and get the party started. People remember us from gigs like this. And it looks good when we're trying to get other gigs.
Which are your favorite local venues to play and what makes them attractive to you?
Afrofunk Forum at DC 9 is small, funky, we mostly fit on stage.... The Black Cat treats you like champions. The 9:30 Club is an awesome place to play. And the Kennedy Center has been nice to us.
Are there places you haven't played that you would like to play?
The Rock 'n Roll Hotel on H St. and the Birchmere.
Did Chopteeth ever experience the gig from hell?
Once, early on, we tried to have a Halloween show. We were all there in costumes and people brought kids in costume. And the sound man didn't show up. I had to jerry rig it. And I had never jerry rigged sound for a band that size before. Other than that, we've been exceptionally lucky.
What are the best raves you have received spontaneously from people walking up to you after a gig?
People have come up to me speaking in a language I sing in but don't speak. ...
After one gig, a mic was open on the floor. A woman didn't realize it and she was talking to her boyfriend, saying "Thank you. Thank you. I needed that. That was awesome. Do you feel happy?"
About those folks I've seen around town wearing those intriguing Chopteeth tee shirts- are those gazelles on the tee shirts? Why gazelles? How can Associated Content readers get their hands on one of those Chopteeth tee shirts?
Chopteeth found a designer, Michael Collins in New York, online. He did some poster design for us and he likes the anthropomorphic theme. He sent us a few ideas. The gazelles have big horns like our big horns section, so that's why we chose it. It's a subtle play on words.
Chopteeth was recently nominated for a WAMMIE. Can you tell Associated Content what a WAMMIE is?
The WAMMIES are the awards from the Washington Area Music Association, WAMA. We've been nominated four times for WAMMIES and never won.
How does a band like Chopteeth go from being locally known to nationally prominent?
We won't be a big pop band. Any national profile will be carving our niche all over. One way to do that is to network with other Afrobeat bands, maybe have an Afrobeat festival, get on world music websites and magazines.
Is there anything that makes the DC area better or worse than other metropolitan areas for up and coming bands?
I can only compare it to New Orleans. It's not like New Orleans where there's always something happening, open, easy to find.
In D.C., there are little pockets, hard to find niches, but if you dig, you find pretty good stuff. The African musicians all come here, not New York. D.C. is the place. Almost everywhere in the world has an ex-patriate community here. You just have to find it.
Saxophonist Mark Gilbert: I have to search my feeble memory 30 years back to the previous metropolitan area I live in- the Bay area- for a comparison. All I remember is that there were many more places to play jazz and Latin and Brasilian and funk and rock and folk and go dancing and everything, just in San Francsico, compared to DC then and the whole DC area; still is that way.
What advice would you give to new bands as far as pitfalls to avoid in DC?
Not just in the DC area, it's particularly true in Africa- You jump in. Pick a project you can sink your teeth into, and don't worry about the money. If it's good, the money will come later. It's a problem if people fall off because the money's not coming fast enough.
Jul 14, 2010
Thanx again to Michael Ricci and Chris May!!!
Fela Kuti Live In Berlin 1978
This terrific three-disc compilation on the British label Wrasse offers a gold standard selection of Fela Kuti's recordings from the latter half of the 1970s. The 11 tracks featured on the two audio discs include eight landmark album tracks, and a 90-minute DVD contains four more pieces performed at the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival. The video footage has not previously been released in its entirety.
The first CD covers the period 1975-76, when Kuti and the band were riding high with a stream of uniformly brilliant albums which expanded their following beyond Nigeria to throughout West Africa. The second CD takes up the story with the title track from 1976's Zombie (Phonogram), and takes it through to 1980 with "Africa Centre Of The World," from Kuti's collaboration with American vibraphonist Roy Ayers, Music Of Many Colours (Phonodisk). Three of the tracks—"Kalakuta Show," "Ikoyi Blindness" and "Zombie"—were reviewed in Part 2 of The Afrobeat Diaries.
Of the tracks not yet covered in the Diaries, three are of particular note. "Expensive Shit," from 1975, features one of Kuti's funniest, and certainly most scatological, Broken English lyrics. In some detail, he tells how, following a bust for marijuana possession, which he frustrated by swallowing the evidence, he was held in jail for nature to take its course and the evidence reemerge. A fellow prisoner came to Kuti's aid by exchanging waste buckets, a lab test proved negative, and the police were frustrated once again. Humor is combined with withering ridicule of police stupidity.
The Ayers collaboration, Music Of Many Colours, consisted of two side-long tracks, "2000 Blacks Got To Be Free" and "Africa Centre Of The World." The first is generic 1970s funk/disco; the second, included on Anthology 2, straight-ahead, mid-tempo Afrobeat and more enduring. Ayers' vibraphone sits well with the band and he turns in an attractive solo. It's a minor regret that Kuti didn't feature guest artists of this caliber more frequently.
Coffin For Head Of State," from 1980, commemorates one of Kuti's many courageous acts of defiance against state power. When his Kalakuta Republic residence was sacked by the police and army in 1977, one of the outrages involved the throwing of Kuti's ageing mother out of a first floor window. She survived, with a broken leg, but Kuti believed that the incident was responsible for her death early the following year. In late September 1979, a few days before the Nigerian head of state, General Obasanjo, was due to hand over power to a civilian administration, Kuti and a group of friends and family members deposited a symbolic coffin outside Obasanjo's home at the army's Dodan Barracks. As they were leaving, they were severely beaten. In the lyric, Kuti also protests at the presence of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria, which he regarded, equally, as malign and divisive forces. It's a subject he touches on in the video clip below. (The 13:19 version of "Coffin" here doesn't include the opening, instrumental section of the track. It's the only such edit on Anthology 2).
The DVD, Fela Live In Berlin 1978, includes four lengthy tunes. The staging and lighting are unsympathetic, the recording quality and sound mix seriously wanting—though no worse than most live TV recordings of the era—and this wasn't one of Kuti's greatest performances. To Afrobeat fans, none of this matters. The film is a valuable archive document, with Kuti leading a 13-piece band augmented by six backing vocalists and six dancers. It's not a complete documentation of the performance. During another number, "Mistake," whose audio recording was a bonus track on Wrasse's reissue of Zombie, a group in the audience engaged in prolonged booing of Kuti for his perceived oppression of women. Musically, it was one of concert's strongest performances (see Part 2 of the Diaries), and it should have been included here.
He Miss Road
Unknown Soldier (Part 2)
Coffin For Head Of State (Part 2)
Africa Centre Of The World
V.I.P. (Vagabonds In Power)
Fela Kuti: vocals, electric piano, tenor saxophone
Igo Chico: tenor saxophone
Lekan Animashaun: baritone saxophone
Tunde Williams: trumpet
Eddie Faychum: trumpet
Tony Njoku: trumpet
Segun Edo: tenor guitar
Ohiri Akiobe: tenor guitar
Tutu Shoronmu: rhythm guitar
Peter Animashaun: rhythm guitar
Tommy James: bass guitar
Maurice Ekpo: bass guitar
Henry Koffi: conga
Friday Jumbo: conga
Akwesi Korranting: conga
Daniel Koranteg: conga
Tony Abayoni: sticks
Isaac Olaleye: shekere, maraccas
Tony Allen: drums
Roy Ayers: vibraphone
ORLANDO Julius Ekemode (a.k.a O.J) who left Nigeria for Ghana a couple of years ago, is back home. In this exclusive interview with CLETUS NWACHUKWU, he revealed that one of the major reasons he left the country for Ghana was the perennial epileptic power supply in the country. He went down memory lane and also spoke on the Nigerian music industry.
I am Orlando Julius Ekemode and I am from Ijebu-Jesa in Osun State. I was however born in Ikole-Ekiti in 1943, and went to school there. When I got to high school, I lost my father who was a trader and I had to move to Ibadan, Oyo State.
I started music in Ibadan in 1957 and I say, as an apprentice. You know, to be a musician, you have to learn how to play different instruments. I was one of the lucky ones who benefited from the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who showed great love for music and as a friend of the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana who made music, a subject taught in Ghanaian schools.
Although Awolowo was only the premier of the then Western region and through his political party called Action Group (AG) established what I would not call a music school as such, he bought several musical instruments that were enough for over 30 bands. It was open to all those interested in learning and playing music. That was where I learned music alongside Alaba Pedro, Y. S., Eddy Okonta, Akani Moses and many others.
The first band I played with was Eddy Okonta's band in 1958, at Oke-Bola, Ibadan. I was with this band for two and half years and appeared on television (WNTV) with him.
Apart from the saxophone, what other musical instrument can you play?
During my school days, I was playing the drums with the school band. At Ibadan, I learnt more about the drums, the rudiments of music and can now play the guitar, trumpet, keyboard and of course, saxophone in all notes.
What happened after Eddy Okonta's band?
After I left Okonta's band, I moved to Ijebu-Ode and played at several hotels and clubs, together with the likes of late I.K. Dairo, Y.S. Maybe you should know, I am related to I. K. Dairo because his mother and my own mother were from the same parents. He was the one who encouraged me to return home because somebody gave them some musical instruments, which they were not using. Then they were playing Juju-highlife and so I returned to Ilesha. I led the band then called I.K. Dairo's Band and I recruited musicians from different places including Lagos and Ibadan. In fact, Jimi Solanke was also in the band, including Isiaka Adio, who later left to help Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to establish his band called Koola Lobitos. Indeed, things moved so fast for me and probably a year later, I moved back to Ibadan to form my own band and began playing at Independence Hotel, Oke Bola.
What was the name of your own band?
It was called Orlando Julius and His Modern Ace. Before then, I remember recording a song Igbehin Adara, which I composed, wrote and performed at WNBC studios in Ibadan. Later, I got signed on by Phillips Records and I recorded Jagua Nana and other hit songs. Afterwards, some of my band members left to join Fela's Koola Lobitos. My band continued playing and we recorded many singles because then, there were no LPs. We did lots of singles and extended plays.
When was your first album released?
That was in 1965, when I did the album Super Afro Souls.
What motivated your movement to the United States several years back?
Well, my contract with Phillips Records expired in 1972. It was a 10-year contract and then I decided to move around and so, went on a visit to the United States to see how things were being done over there. However, it was in 1974, that I finally decided to move to there to work and do music. In the United States, I was able to study film and it was the same time Tunde Kelani was also studying film in London. I read film and production at San Francisco University and also had a music band. And in 1977, I became the first African to do a collaboration with an American star called Lamon Dozia. The song was Going Back To My Roots and I added the Yoruba lyrics (Awa oma ranti se ranti ye o, isedale baba wa).
So far, how many albums have you produced, apart from the singles?
I would say about 14 albums.
How would you describe the music scene back then?
Music was very big, particularly highlife. And my contemporaries before I left Nigeria were Rex Lawson, Eddy Okonta, E. C. Arinze, Dele Ojo, Osita Osadebe to name a few. But then, I was doing a different kind of highlife. I modernised it to Afro and I called it Afro-Highlife.
You reportedly spent over 25 years in the United States. Was that where you met your wife, Latoya?
No, I met her first in 1987.
And you got married immediately?
No, I met her through the late Ambrose Campbell and after that, we lost contact because I was living in North California and she was living in South California. My band was busy moving around doing music and it was in 1989 when we met again. At that time, I needed a dancer and a back-up singer. She joined my band in 1990 and started working with me. I would say she was a very good singer and dancer. Four years later (1994), we started getting closer.
How many children do you have together?
She already had kids before we met and I had already had kids here in Nigeria before I went to the United States. But we don't have any kid together and it's a mutual understanding.
How would you describe her?
She is a blessing to my life. As a wife, friend, partner, dancer, singer and member of my band, I continue to bless the day she came into my life. Unlike other musicians, she was not money-conscious and was ever-willing to do things to help move the band forward. She is like a mother to me. In fact, she is too much! It might also interest you that she in fact made the marriage proposal.
What's the difference between your generation of musicians and the present ones?
There's a big difference between an artiste and a musician. Today, most of these guys are artistes. As a musician, you must be able to play one, two or more instruments and direct music. But today, it's all about miming. I would blame it on the fact that there are no music schools where they can learn how to do music. That's why our kids are doing hip-hop rather than highlife or juju.
As a man and a musician, do you feel fulfilled?
Yeah, 100 per cent. People all over the world are still enjoying my music. You can get my music to buy from the internet and it is even being enjoyed and patronised mostly by the whites, who don't understand my Yoruba lyrics.
Which of your albums sold the highest and gave you joy and satisfaction?
I can't really say, because most of my albums are classic. You know, I write my music notes, arrange the instrumentations, lyrics and everything and after the hard work of production, listening to them gives me a great deal of joy and happiness. Imagine a kid of 12 or 13 years in love with the song Jagua Nana, produced several decades ago. That's the power of music.
Why did you decide to move to Ghana?
I returned home to Nigeria with my wife in 1998 and we were living in Surulere, Lagos, where we had a studio. We brought in lots to quality equipments and did try to record albums. But we were always having problems with power supply. And it caused us so much damage. Eventually, we decided to move and after performing at the PANAFEST in Ghana, I was impressed with the power supply and decided to stay on and establish a music studio to produce our albums.
Do you plan to establish a music school to help the growth of music in Nigeria?
Yeah, there are plans, but we can't do it alone without corporate and government support. But it's always hard getting government support because of their politicking. You can see the importance of attending a music school, through that young lady, Asa.
I remember that before we travelled to Ghana, a fella brought her to our studio and we directed her to Yinka Davies. On our return, I was happy that she decided to do a good thing with her life by attending Peter King's music school in Badagry. Today, she can play the guitar and other instruments very well as well as compose and arrange her songs. If many of our kids can attend music schools, we would definitely see that this country is blessed with lots of stars.
You said something about both of you releasing new albums. How soon should we expect it?
Over there in Ghana, I did an album and produced some songs for her album too. OJB Jezreel also did some tracks for her in the album. I would call her music Afro-Soul, and she did a couple of songs in Yoruba, which she learnt, from me.
Is any of your children taking after you musically?
Yeah, my son in Los Angeles named Ajamu, born to me by an African American woman is doing music. He plays Afro hip-hop and he is 26 years old and last year, he released an album. His full names are Ajamu Oyegoke Ekemode.
And your own, funkified names?
You should know that Orlando is just a nickname I adopted because of my record label. They advised then that if I use my real names it would seem like I am playing Apala or Sakara music. I took the name Orlando from the popular movie actor, Orlando Martins who acted with the likes of Bob Hope and the late American president, Ronald Reagan. He was a Nigerian the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo brought back home to be part of the establishment of WNTV.
Even Orlando Owoh took the name too, after me. At a time when he was in the army, he would go about singing like me and gradually people started calling him Orlando.
Last year certainly was a bad one for the music industry in terms of death.
Did you at any time approach the past and present PMAN leadership to do more on artistes' welfare?
I have always been interested in helping the industry grow. But the problem is the response of PMAN leadership to offers of help. It's been very nonchallant. After Sunny Ade's tenure, I told my wife that I was interested in participating in the affairs of PMAN. I went ahead, paid my dues but up till now, I don't have a membership card. Who do I go and fight?
When Charley Boy was PMAN president, I did a lot to encourage him and during my stay in Ghana, I invited him over and he was happily received and hosted by the leadership of Ghana Musicians Union. After he left office, I also visited Bolaji Rosiji to discuss ways forward for the music industry. I have also had discussions with Tee-Mac on the issue of getting royalties for musicians.
Today, Nigeria is not enjoying the services provided by other member countries of PMRS. Overseas, radio and television stations have a log book to record music played and on how much an artistes would receive for getting his song played. It might interest you to know that till today, I still receive royalties for my records. Do you know also that I have to operate an account from Ghana to pick my royalties because PMRS stopped dealing with Nigeria long ago due to our past policies. It is a shame that no artiste from Nigeria collects royalties from anywhere.
What's the way out?
It is to get the government more involved and look back at its policies, redress the past mistakes and make the industry an open and level playing field.
What legacy do you intend leaving behind as a fulfilled musician?
I want to be remembered as a musician who loved his country. As someone who gave the people beautiful music and was always ready to help and do the best for the overall growth of this great country and the world in general. Still on the royalty issues, I want PMAN, NCC, MSCN and others to take it seriously because it is now so bad that even radio stations now go to Alaba market to buy CDs and play on air without paying artistes.
I want to also be remembered as someone who helped Nigerian artistes to get their rights. I would not go back on the music school project and I have set up my music studios in my place in Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State.
What's up with your newest job?
My new job is titled Longevity and reclamation.
The interview was published by The Guardian Nigeria, unfortunately not available online at their page anymore!
Jul 13, 2010
This is an interview Bob Baker Fish did in inpress with Seun Kuti, the 26 year old son of legendary Afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti. He’s just released an incendiary debut album with Fela’s old band Egypt 80 called Many Things (Cartell Music) and is playing with them at Womadelaide.
I’ll start with an easy question (laughs). Do You think music has the power to change things?
It is a question of opinion. I think music has the power to change things. But just like anything it can not be done by just one person or one group or ten groups it has to be a collective thing. All the musicians in the world have to have it in the back of their mind that music is a gift that should be used not just to get rich in their pocket but also to uplift their people. If every musician in the world is putting their music to advocate for some kind of change then definitely change will come.
Were you always going to make Afrobeat music?
Definitely. Being Fela’s son there’s no escaping it. (chuckle). But at the same time if I live this life to know what I know today I would still want to use my music to try and increase peoples awareness of what is going on in the world and also try to change the lives of my people.
Is Afrobeat inherently political?
I don’t think Afrobeat is the only genre that can do it. Afrobeat was created to do it. I think if you’re a rapper or a pop singer, or a working musician whatever you are and want to use your music for positivity it’s possible. Not just your voice, because what we’re seeing in the news for a while is gone but our music lasts forever.
I heard you were originally a backup singer in Egypt 80 is that true?
I’m not a backup singer. I’ve never been a backup. I used to open the shows for my father. I used to sing a little bit or one of his songs.
So you go back quite a way with the band.
Even before I started singing on the stage I knew all the members of the band because my dad used to take us to every gig and I used to go on every tour. Even my manager I think I met him as a little boy. I don’t think I met him then. But if I did I must have been a little boy. My dad so everyone in the band is like family to me. I’ve known them since even before I started singing in the band you know. It wasn’t just because of the band I would always be around them growing up.
So what’s it like being their leader now for both you and them?
I think I’m only the leader when it comes to doing something like this and everybody is having a good time and I’m being interviewed until 8 in the morning or something. I think this is when I am the leader (laughs). And maybe financially too (laughs again). But I think the way the band is run you don’t need something like the leader. Every decision is made democratically. And the band trust me. They know I want the best for the band. I’ve given my whole youth for the band. My whole life and everything has been about the band I think everybody close to me knows that whatever decision I make is for the band to grow.
After Fela died I’m wondering if maybe the band wasn’t going to continue.
Yes definitely. I was surprised to find out the family didn’t really expect the band to go on. That’s why I’m the one playing with the band today, because nobody was going to do it and the band didn’t get any support from the family to keep going on. So what did I have to do? What could I do in order to keep playing with the band. So don’t come to us for any assistance and keep what you make. So here we are today.
When did you start this?
We’ve been doing this for a long time. 1997. Immediately when Fela died we continued. It was very tough in the beginning trust me. But that’s our history.
Why has it taken so long to release your debut album?
It’s a whole combination of factors. From my personal issues to getting a proper record contract . From my point of view I didn’t want to do an album as a teenager or too quickly and as an adult I’d be wondering why did I do this album I really don’t like this album I made. And Afrobeat is a way of life, you have to live your music. You can’t just sing Afrobeat and do something else. I can’t be singing Afrobeat and go to a government launch like many African artists do. I had to decide. Afrobeat was my calling you know. After making this decision then we were looking at doing the album.
Is Afrobeat more accepted now in Nigeria by the government?
Afrobeat is still seen as the opposition music. It doesn’t get as much support as other genres of music in Nigeria. Because it was created in Nigeria and because it would talk about Nigerian politicians, Nigeria would be tougher on Afrobeat than anything else.
How do you and the band go about composing songs?
I write the music, that’s it. Yeah. It’s not so hard.
I find that hard to believe. It can’t be that easy.
The writing of the songs is really simple. Trust me (laughs).
Okay. I’ll trust you on that. Did you ever feel any pressure when writing lyrics to live up to your father’s words?
No no no no. If I thought like that I would never have finished making my album. I don’t think music should be compared you should just enjoy music. I had some things I wanted to say so I said them in my own words. I didn’t think about what my father would have said in that instance or the words he would use. That being said I’m still inspired by his style and words you know.
Is it hard to be something other than your father’s son? Particularly after making an Afrobeat album?
It’s not hard for me. I am my own person. It’s hard for people to believe I can be my own person. I don’t think that there is a tradition that I have to handle, So I’m living my own life as my own person. One of the things my dad actually taught me was the only person I have to impress in this world is myself. I’ve been able to do that quite comfortably. I’m impressed with who I am. I don’t feel any obligation.