Nov 26, 2010
Olaiya was born on 31 December 1931, in Calabar, Cross River State, the 20th child of a family of 24. His parents, Alfred Omolona Olaiya and Bathsheba Owolabi Motajo came from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State. At an early age he learned to play the Bombardon and the French Horn. After leaving school he moved to Lagos where he passed the school certificate examination in 1951 and was accepted by Howard University, USA to study Civil engineering. However, due to lack of money he was unable to go, and instead started a career as a musician, a move of which his parents disapproved. He played with the Sammy Akpabot band, the Old Lagos City Orchestra (a dance band) and the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra, where he was leader and trumpeter of the second band.
In 1954 he left Bobby Benson to form his own band, the Cool Cats, playing popular highlife music. His band was chosen to play at the state ball when Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom visited Nigeria in 1956, and later to play at the state balls when Nigeria became independent in 1960 and when Nigeria became a republic in 1963. On that occasion, he shared the stage with the famous American jazz player Louis Armstrong. During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970, Olaiya was given the rank of a lieutenant colonel (honorary) in the Nigerian Army when his band played for the troops at various locations. His band later traveled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops. He led his band, renamed to the All Stars Band, to the 1963 International Jazz Festival in Prague, Czechoslovakia
In addition to his successful career as a musician, Olaiya ran a business that imported and distributed musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa, and also established the Stadium Hotel in Surulere.
In 1990, Olaiya received a fellowship of the Institute of Administrative Management of Nigeria. For a period, he was president of the Nigerian Union of Musicians.
Olaiya's music bridges between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat. His musical style was strongly influenced by James Brown, with horn parts harmonized in Brown's style, as opposed to the mostly unison lines of Afrobeat. The music includes the swinging percussion of Tony Allen, but not the syncopated style that Allen later pioneered. His music is infectious, typifying highlife music, played with great energy. The unique style of some of his recordings is inimitable.
He played with highlife artist E. T. Mensah of Ghana, and released a best-selling joint album with Mensah. Both the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist Fela Kuti played with Olaiya and went on to achieve individual success. Kola Ogunkoya played in the All Stars Band from 1986 to 1987 and went on to have a highly successful career with his own Afrobeat band.
"They thought I moved Highlife music out of the ordinary. Then, it was believed that my Highlife was a little bit out of this world, beyond explanation. This was why Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times styled me The Evil Genius of Highlife."
Victor Olaiya is certainly one of the legendary foundation stones of modern Nigerian music, yet he has never received much acknowlegement or really had his albums released or promoted in any quantity outside of Nigeria. So this Vampisoul release is a step in the right direction and not before time, for a 77 years old who was probably Nigeria’s leading star of 50's and early 60's, his golden years. Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, the evil genius of Highlife, is still sockin’ it to them after 60 years on stage. If you’re lucky you can catch him blowing that trumpet and singing his heart out at his own celebrated 'Stadium Hotel' in Lagos, Nigeria.
This album from 1970 is from Olaiya’s Highlife / Funk phase, but its worth taking a trawl through his back pages to see how he became the Evil Genius, before you roll back the rug and get down with the Highlife-Funk.
In his own words
I was born to the family of Alfred Omolewa Bath Sheba Owolabi Olaiya in the ancient city of Calabar on 31st December 1937. I am from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State. I had my early education at Big Qua Town at Calabar, while my primary education was at African school, Onitsha. I came to Lagos in search of greener pastures and for greater challenges and I had an opportunity to further my education, regarding music as a past time. I started attending classes in the day and playing music in the night, until I sat for and passed the school certificate examination in 1951. I later gained admission into Howard University, America to read Civil engineering but finance became I stumbling block and as such I couldn't go to Howard to study.
Incursion Into music
I was not to be a musician. I did not have any premonition of my calling into the music profession. Like I said I was to be a civil engineer and by the time I got a scholarship to go overseas, I asked my uncle the late S. O. Rotimi who was then living at Owerri, to lend me some money to aid my transportation by sea to Howard. But he turned me down. At that instance I couldn't embark on the journey and the opportunity of the scholarship failed. So, I started playing music, which was my hobby then. With God's guidance I started paying attention to music which today has earned me fame.
A Stumbling Block
At that time my family was against my going into music. They believed naturally, that, anyone who plays music is an irresponsible person who belonged to the group of Indian hemp smokers. To them, music was a No-Go-Area until providence smiled at me. The maiden issue of Daily Times had on the front page reported that Victor Olaiya was to play at one of the big ceremonies. My elder brother saw it and was furious. he called me and every member of the family and I was made to explain to every one whether I am the person talked about in the papers. I couldn't answer and I was shivering. at the end, I said yes. They asked me if I play music, I also said yes. It was then they prayed for me and gave me the go ahead and this was how I got my freedom to be in music.
Like Father, Like Son
Today, my children play different kinds of instrument; some play trumpet just like me, others play piano, guitars etc. It is a matter of choice and it appears that they are stepping into my shoes. As at now six of them read music and they play piano. There are three girls, Yejide is good on clarinet, she is a graduate of the University of Lagos, she is currently doing her masters degree at the University of Ibadan. She also plays the auto-sax. The two other girls play electric guitar and piano. Dupe also plays clarinet and auto-sax. The male, Bayode plays the trumpet and takes the lead, he is also a graduate of Lagos State University. There is also Abidemi, a student of the University of Ibadan studying Civil engineering, he plays the tenor saxophone. And the third boy, Abiodun Olaiya, plays the trumpet. They form the front row instrumentalist of the band. I have always desired that all of them play the piano and major in one instrument. A number of them have taken after me and as at now they are playing in the band and are doing very well. Just come here on Saturday, you will see them performing.
Highlife Never Dies
A number of us were playing Highlife in the past because it was the reigning music at that time and every type of music played then had to borrow one or two things from Highlife. This is why I always say that "For Highlife I live and for it I shall die". Anybody who is coming up directly or indirectly borrows something from Highlife and will continue to do that, but you see because we are very few remaining now people believe that highlife music is not what it used to be, but I think it is still what it used to be.
Cool Cat Orchestra
The cool cat was formed in 1954. The group was made up of the likes of Professor Abayomi of University of Lagos (UNILAG), he was my saxophonist, we had Akanni Akinde who designed the Cool Cat with all the cat features. K.K Ajilo (saxophone) and K Anifowose, (trumpet), Dennis Lawani (Drum), Sammy Latte and the late Bala Miller, Fela played in my band too. as a matter of fact that was where he learnt how to play the trumpet. A number of those we started the band are still with me, although very aged but they are still agile and going strong. Most of them are over 70.
Then I had late John Akintola aka (Roy Chicago), Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson who played in my band before going to form his own, Late Agun Norris of Empire Orchestra, Celestine Ukwu of Anambra, late Bala Miller and many that I cannot remember now. But amongst those who are still living are those who have been promoted. Providence has promoted them, they have worked themselves to limelight, the likes of Sir Victor Uwaifo, A.C Arinze and Osita Osadebe.
A Career In Business
I have the biggest musical instrument shop, which deals in importation, distribution and marketing, in West Africa. I have been in the sales and marketing of musical accessories for the best part of 50 years and my shop is still existing. It is located at Tinubu square, Lagos. Then I go annually to the world biggest musical exhibition, which is usually held in Frankfurt in Western Germany. In 1963, when the Czech government held the first world international jazz festival and they wanted a band to represent Africa because they too believe that jazz originated from Africa, I was nominated and invited to represent the continent of Africa.
When I discovered that we could get the musical instrument we needed, I decided to go into hotel business because over the years I suffered seriously at the hand of hoteliers. Then we used to move from one hotel to the other performing but each time we tried to build up, the hoteliers tried to frustrate us by ejecting us. We attributed all these to the fact that they are our rivals. That made me move from one hotel to the other in different parts of Lagos. I kept rolling like a rolling stone until we finally thought we had found the place and named it PAPIGO DAVALAYA along Apapa. No sooner we thought we had settled down and made a conquest than we saw an ejection letter and a court injunction terminating the contract of our principal agent. There wasn't much we could do other than to start touring and I was touring the country three times every year because I had no permanent place to perform. I decided to start taking my music to everyone in Nigeria even to the remotest village in the country and that helped my popularity then. This was why I tried to put up a place of my own to help free musicians from this unwarranted harassment and I started saving towards building a night club which eventually metamorphosed into a hotel. I just wanted a wall, a round place where I could play and people could come and listen to my band and enjoy it but as providence would have it I ended up building a hotel enclosing a nite club which today we named 'Pappingo Nite Club Of Stadium Hotel'. The stadium Hotel has been in existence since 1972.
It is just one National honors award that I have received, that is Officer of the Order of Niger (OON) which I got about three years ago. That is the only award that I have actually accepted, although I have one very important award which I accepted when Ondo State was still with Ekiti State and my name was engraved in gold at the Cocoa House as one of the illustrious sons of Ekiti and Ondo State. Many awards having been coming, but I have not accepted any of them because they are local and cheap. A situation where someone would come up to say because I am a highlife king he wants to give me an award; I don't honor such. I don't believe in that and I don't even go. I think it was peculiar to me and late Fela Anikulakpo Kuti.
They shouldn't just come in search of money, they must ensure and search their respective conscience that they have callings in the field of music. They should make sure they do it conscientiously with prayers. I have not come into music because of money. mine was accidental although I maintain and claim that music runs in the blood of my family and I have demonstrated it.
The influence of James Brown in West Africa in the '60s and '70s is utterly astounding, as any fan of the Ghana Soundz compilations is aware. Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, known as the "evil genius of highlife," serves as the bridge between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat. Fela Kuti and drummer Tony Allen are notable alumni of Olaiya's groups. Olaiya is equally indebted to Brown here. Nigerian highlife is clearly a transitional music — the horn parts are harmonized in the style of Brown and Ghanaian highlife, as opposed to the mostly unison lines of Afrobeat. The percolating, swinging percussion is present but the syncopated style Tony Allen would later pioneer is in its infancy. The unfortunate thing about this reissue is the lack of documentation. While Vampisoul has done the best with the information it has, the musicians are unidentified and much is unknown about these 1970 sessions. It's a shame because these sides are important to the Diaspora of African music.
Spain's Vampi-Soul picked the perfect album with which to enter into the African-funk reissue game. Big-band leader Victor Olaiya's 14-minute funk/highlife medley of James Brown's "There Was a Time/Cold Sweat" sounds like a modern-day DJ mash-up of Brown's Live at the Apollo performance and, well, one of Olaiya's highlife numbers. Elsewhere on the album, Olaiya's version of "Mother Popcorn" offers another excellent take on the JB sound. His female vocalist also makes a glorious mess of Marva Whitney's "Things Got to Get Better."
1. Let Yourself Go
2. There Was A Time
3. Okere Gwonko
4. I Feel Alright
5. Soro Jeje Fun Arogbo
6. Cold Sweat
7. New Nigeria
8. Things Got To Get Better
9. Everybody Needs Love
10. Magic Feet
12. Mother Popcorn
Labels: Victor Olaiya
Nov 19, 2010
An article by Adebowale Oriku in the Nigerian Village Square, September 02, 2009
I have always found Lagbaja eminently listenable. All right, I must be careful lest this piece should become a puff or a plug for Lagbaja's many masterworks. Not that he does not deserve it - he does. Lagbaja is an artist (not merely an artiste, note the difference). When Lagbaja arrived on the scene I was musically savvy enough to know that the guy was a dynamo of native talent. In those early-to-mid 1990s, there was a posse of clones of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti prancing around in Lagos, striving for the limelight. But you could see Lagbaja was in a class of his own. Although he was doubless influenced by Fela, Lagbaja was able to innovate a destylized, nouveau-trad, Afro-rhythm. He introduced various types of African ‘talking drums,’ especially the bata, that magical voiceful cone-shaped drum, somewhat analogous to the European piano in its importance, symbolism, eloquence and glottal range.
I remember chatting for long with my brother Akin and our mutual friend, Leke Awodeyi, with Lagbaja providing background music. The trio of us were Lagbaja’s soulful listeners (somehow I find the word ‘fan’ inapt here). We found that Lagbaja was constitutively mellifluous and that the songs conduced to bull-talk and beer. The folksy Coolu Temper. Well, the midtempo polyphony of Lagbaja’s songs would make anyone allergic to disharmony anyway. Although his act was grounded on masqueraderie and he could compose gutbucket caprices now and then, it was clear to me that Lagbaja was more of a phenomenon than a fad.
Now this is what I do not want. I intend this article to be no more than a precise aperçu, because knowing how I like a lot of Lagbaja’s songs, this might well become an expansive disquisition on the music and the man - not that I know a lot about the man, though.
A music video of Lagbaja that I have found myself returning to lately had concentrated my mind enough that I imagined it was worth commenting upon. Suuru Lere from the album We Before Me, released in 2001. I bought the CD years ago in the UK here and I must say that, at first blush, the song was one of the two that I thought was not up to scratch in the otherwise brilliant album. Of course I understood what Lagbaja was trying to do, the calm soft-key movement, the incantatory talkiness, the drawn-out elegiac bridges. He was in an admonitory mood, in a pensive, almost pitchless, way he was imploring us to be 'patient' with democracy, to allow democracy to thrive and bear fruits. I had found the advice grandmotherly and superfluous. You simply can’t beg a people to kiss democracy’s ass when the more visible praxists of democracy - politicians - are busy kicking it. I’d allowed what I considered Lagbaja’s overoptimistic, slightly prickly, message to render me tone-deaf to the sublime melodiousness of the song.
A couple of years ago or so, I stumbled upon the video of Suuru Lere (rather late in the day, I suppose), and perhaps still poisoned by my earlier cursory uninterest in the song I didn’t spend more than a few seconds on the video before I moved to something else. But I was drawn back to it just a few weeks ago, and I was hooked. It was a doubletake moment, and then some. I watched the musical over and over again, and I still do now.
I feel no embarrassment to say what turned the song into a reawakened sleeper for me was the cartoonisation of the video. Since Michael Jackson’s primeval Thriller playlet, I had not taken the time to fully soak in any musical video. Although both videos are no more kindred than being storytelling pieces, they have impinged on me in their own their own unique ways. Thriller’s mock-horror novelty, choreography and librettistic perfectness, over against Lagbaja’s Suuru Lere’s narratory, tease-thought-out aesthetic. Both videos might easily be dismissed as kitsch, but then seeing the transvaluation that postmodernism has given kitsch, now we know there is such a thing as good and bad kitsch. Kitsch is no longer a totalisation of badness, of crass tastelessness.
And as far as kitsch goes, Lagbaja’s Suuru Lere video is a good one, better in my estimation than Thriller. Even an overripened hindsight might make me later consign Thriller into the garbage-can of pretty-pretty popular art. But certainly not so for Suuru Lere - at least not for now - the video tells a story that touches a chord rather than play on several chords like Thriller.
Before I go on I must apologise to those who cannot speak nor understand the Yoruba language that Suuru Lere is sung in Yoruba. I am not apologising for Lagbaja for using Yoruba to sing a song, but for myself for writing about it in English, a language in which I must inevitably write and which those who could only enjoy the melodies of Lagbaja’s Yoruba songs would also be able to read. But this is where the Suuru Lere video is a good one, it would be understood and savoured by anyone - Yoruba or not - who could watch it, and the feeling it gives is indeed somewhat paradigmatic of what may be described as ‘visually evoked response’ - a response at once delayed and deep.
The video is mixed-media, a montage of Lagbaja’s crooning, choral background vocals, some drama, and a computer-made animation relating a brief history of Nigeria. As a lover of the arts - any sort of art, including cyberart - it was easy for me be enchanted by the video, the telling of the sad Nigeria story in the form of jerky animation, in the shape of comic make-believe. Besides reading graphic novels once in a while, I still watch a lot of animation - not much Japanese anime to be honest - on TV. I remember using the excuse of taking my daughter to watch Shrek the Third to see it on the big screen. Now we are both waiting for the next instalment (and said to be the last) of Shrek coming out next year. I watch The Simpsons too, once in a while. But Comedy Central’s South Park - the mordant, dry satire on American social and political life - is always for me a tickly delectation. The flat, foul-mouthed, lilliputian characters in South Park never fail to raise the hackles, and sometimes chuckles, both on the right and left of America’s deeply divided socio-political life.
When I saw the first frame of Lagbaja’s Suuru Lere, it brought to me the figures in South Park - made with the same primary pastel colours. The video animation opens with a patchwork-green map of Nigeria nailed and jointed together by the contours of the rivers Niger and Benue. The rolled-up scroll on which the cobbled map is drawn Nigeria is passed from one hand to another, from Lugard to several early politicians, all garbed in motley colours Lagbaja-style. Then comes rowdy self-rule, and military men in verdigris green uniforms kicking the seat from under the civilians. There is the first coming of Obasanjo. Then Shehu Shagari and his high-hat. The arrogant Buhari and his sidekick, Idi-Agbon. The gap-toothed liar and sneak-thief, otherwise called Ibrahim Babangida. The part of the cartoon which I truly find amusing is the arrival of Abacha with the highlighted Kanuri marks on his cheeks. Eve, no, Lilith - Adam’s first wife - who comes in the shape of an Indian prostitute to feed Abacha an apple, and how the dictator goes kaput. The interlude of Abdusalam. And the second coming of Olusegun Obasanjo, although the cartoon depiction of the barrel-bellied former president of Nigeria reminds me of his bucolic middle name, Aremu, maybe because of the striking strokes of Egba marks on his cheek.
Somehow the moving pictures had made me re-listen to the music with the inner ear, and I don’t just mean this literally. I realised that this is perhaps the most evocative, the most exacting and fiddliest of all of Lagbaja’s songs. Suuru Lere is meaningful and portentous, the singer makes a long arm for social and political responsibility in a way yet unrepeated - even years after its release - in his other songs. Lagbaja shows that though he may have been influenced by Fela, he is cast in a different, although coterminous, mould. Where Fela would lay into Authority Thieves with the heavy hand of abrasive ‘yabbis,’ Lagbaja displays restraint. In Suuru Lere he employs several rhetorical devices to say all he wants to say. He appeals to reason, to forbearance, and unsurprisingly, to God. He adjures, reflects, projects. The coda Mo Sorry Fun Gbogbo Yin (I am Sorry for you All) is very significant in the song. We know what I am sorry for you means in the Nigerian street parlance, Lagbaja uses this ironical meiosis for the more direct statement, Those of you who have been killing Nigeria not-so-softly won’t be given any quarter when your comeuppance comes. I hope such a time would come. Like a kind of comminatory pre-Christ prophet, Lagbaja delivers his message. But I hope there is truly a god who would punish anyone who attempts to subvert democracy in Nigeria. The problem is, if there is truly a god who oversees things in Nigeria he has always been so slow to act, to deal out punishments to all of those who have been involved in the plundering of that poor country.
Anyway, I must not vitiate my satisfaction with the video with my doubts about the role providence in the life of a country, of any country. I guess if Nigeria wants to go the way of the Humpty-Dumpty imagery in the animation, baldly depicted as a limbless egg, no god will be able to stop that. Of course it is clear that Lagbaja, though massively talented, is no iconoclastic rebel like Fela who would never have sung that patience has its rewards (Suuru Lere), Fela would have gone for laisser-aller lambasting where Lagbaja has successfully adopted greybearded lampoonery.
But the appeals to a higher power do not in anyway detract from the effectiveness of the song and video, it may even have redounded gravitas to it in the ears of many. I must confess that the fact that the song is rendered in Yoruba - the mother tongue that has been in a schizoid struggle against being wrenched from me by the foreign tongue with which I am, again inevitably, writing now - seems to have spiritualised my ingestion in the way Hubert Ogunde’s Yoruba Ronu (Yoruba Think) had made a contemplative impact in 1964 when the Yoruba people were locked in internecine strife. Like someone reading sheet music, profoundly I cognized the cadences, the nuances of Suuru Lere. Although someone from Ibadan might pick bits of Awurebe tempo from the song, basically it is a melding of Orin Aro (Elegy) and something which is neither Ofo (Incantation) nor Ayajo (Malignation). Lagbaja might just as well have invoked either Sango or Ogun to deal with those who are destroying Nigeria, but then unchristianly Norwegians would not invoke antiquated Norse deities like Thor or Odin to deal with failing politicians, they would vote them out. And there is the bata-beating interludes, the staccato rub-a-dub of this African instrument is relentlessly impressive. And the chantlike responsorial chorus. And although I know Lagbaja wishes the message of the music to be easily digested, there is a sort of oracular air about the song, an unspoken kernel susceptible of several interpretations, not dissimilar to that hugely affective anthem by Bob Dylan, Something Is Blowing in the Air. Nigeria’s polluted air is pregnant too with nameless things. Who knows what it would born?
Which is why a song released in 2001 carries more resonance today than when it came out. In 2001 Obasanjo had only spent two years in office, and there was still a tide of optimism sweeping through the country. Although I never thought Obasanjo was going to achieve anything worthwhile, Nigerians still took him serious then, and it seemed, from all appearance, as if a season of democratic spring had arrived in the country, so Lagbaja’s entreaties that we should embrace democracy was in time as well as in tune. Considering the lag of time between then and now it is not likely that he would be so sweet today about the future of democracy in Nigeria. It is in that wise that this essay should be seen as more of a revisionary effort rather than a review.
I cannot but notice too that the svelte Ego Ihenachor is not in Suuru Lere. That young sunny woman is a fine vocalist, she almost made a crush-struck schoolboy of me with her canorous cameo appearance in Lagbaja’s Skontolo where she plays the winnable trophy woman. I understand she is no longer part of Lagbaja’s ensemble. I wish her the best of luck.
I must return to what made me revisit the song in the first place. The animation music video. If it reminded me of South Park it certainly would suggest to me that perhaps that would be a good way to twit Nigerian politicians, especially office-holders. But I had to give myself pause. Don’t we need a certain level of political sophistication, some horse-sense, among the politicians themselves before you can use satire on them. Do I hear someone ask How do you begin to twit twits? Just imagine James Ibori or Tony Anenih sitting in front of a TV, watching a Nigerian version of South Park and seeing the point of it. And even if they did what difference would it make? It would be no more than wearing velvet gloves to shake the front hooves of pigs - and I am not talking about intelligent Orwellian pigs.
Now a word or two about the mystique of Lagbaja - I mean his mystique as far as the wider public is concerned. To use a theory spun by certain physicists, there is only a buffer of five humans between me and the unveiled Lagbaja. If Nigeria was a country in which paparazzi could flourish, Lagbaja would have long ceased to be incognito. Even then the soft-mask he wears has not been altogether hermetic. But the Unknown Lagbaja, the Whatchamacallum, is rather interesting, although it would be easy for anyone who does not like the man or his music to dismiss the disguise as gimmicky.
One cannot stress overmuch how Lagbaja’s self-effacing camouflage does have its roots in the Yoruba culture of masquerading (egungun), and in the Yorubaworld that the ‘born-again’ Christians are trying to kill, masqueraders do not often walk unaccompanied by song and dance. But then Lagbaja symbolises subculture than culture, at least sartorially speaking. Even his music, although quite widely appealing, reminds me more of indie rock, the spirit and mettle of indie. I think Lagbaja is Africa’s first guerrilla artist, he is perhaps the first in postcolonial Africa to use a covert style of art to achieve overt ends. Often Guerrilla Art is more fine art than any other art, although ‘performance’ artists have been tagged guerrillas as much as fine artists. In the world of guerrilla art, a streaker – that is someone who undresses suddenly and runs around nude in public before he his taken away – may be called an artist. As well as surreptitiousness, suddenness and shockingness may be thrown in the bargain. We know Lagbaja is explicitly surreptitious, considering his disguise – but imagine surprising him, in that garb, on your elderly grandparents as your best friend (something that I think happens in one of his videos), you would be lucky if the oldsters survive the shock-horror.
Lagbaja always reminds me of faceless Banksy, the quintessential British guerrilla artist, who started stencilling elaborate trompe l’oeil images on walls in his home town of Bristol. He soon arrived in London, springing his surprise art on the unwary, transfiguring the bald idle high-street wall you saw yesterday with the image of a rat holding a sign saying “You Lie.” Banksy has been to the West Bank too, spray-painting the illusion of blasted holes on the wall Israel is erecting to shut away Palestinians in a concentration camp. Like Lagbaja Banksy is incognito, even more so. Nobody knows whether Banksy wears a mask or not, to most people he might as well be a phantom, he is eel-like and elfishly mysterious and mischievous and there is so much supposition about who and what he is, what his name is. What Lagbaja has done is just as remarkable, the exciting, this-worldly retrofitting he has introduced into the age-old Yoruba egungun tradition.
by Adebowale Oriku, nigeriavillagesquare.com
Nov 17, 2010
Austin afrobeat sensations, Hard Proof are slated to perform Friday at The Ghost Room to announce the release of their self-titled album. Nigerian and current Austin resident, Kalu James opens the show. Fans may remember Kalu from his appearance at Red 7 with Hard Proof and other guests last month.
Examiner has previewed the new recording which translates easily from the live stage where Hard Proof honed their sound to a gorgeous album that is playing at Examiner's office as this preview is being written. A favorite cut on the album is Buffalo (see video from this morning's Fox 7 broadcast on left).
You will love the great sax sounds on Mahout (listen here) as played by Joe Woullard, Jason Frey and Derek Phelps who also tour with Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. Hard Proof's members love making fans dance to the infectious African inspired funk/soul originals that fans can find on the new album. The band is appropriately proud of their new work which took over eight months to produce according to Frey.
Hard Proof Afrobeat is led by the same horn section that helps make Black Joe Lewis' live show so damn funky. When they're not spreading the gospel of old-school dirty American funk with Black Joe, Hard Proof pays homage to afrobeat, a funk-influenced 1970s musical movement spawned by Nigerian musical genius Fela Kuti. It's good to see an Austin band getting down with afrobeat, given what a complex yet fun style of music it is. My verdict on Hard Proof Afrobeat: I enjoyed this band, though I wasn't blown away by any means. I think afrobeat suffers when it doesn't have a vocalist. Instrumental afrobeat just lacks the power. I think of Fela's best songs, and they included group chants and scathing politically charged lyrics. Musically, this band is fine. But it's not the full afrobeat experience.
Hard Proof Afrobeat: an emerging Austin talent
An element of a quality concert examiner's role is finding new, exciting bands for their readers to see perform live. In keeping with that theme, there's a new talent in Austin that has already gotten some international recognition, Hard Proof Afrobeat.
Hard Proof has been featured on the British Broadcasting Corp.'s radio program, The Craig Charles Funk and Soul show. Charles selected Lion of Mali, a track recorded for the band's first demo and posted on their MySpace page to play on air. Conga player, Tony Cruz commented that the song was an original witten by Bari Sax player, Joe Woullard.
What is appealing about Hard Proof is the elements of jazz, funk and african rythmns that they fuse together to create a unique sound. While there are many talented musicians in Austin and an equal number of great bands, Hard Proof offers fans something out-of-the-ordinary in terms of the local music scene.
Several band members have been playing music in Austin for some time. Ari Dvorin currently plays with New Orleans transplant Cyril Neville and several other projects. Tenor sax player, Jason Frey and Cruz have collaborated together on a number of projects, including jazz bands, Collect All Five and Tumbateo.
Hard Proof, the self-titled debut album from the Austin, Texas based afrobeat ensemble is a groovtastically funky collection of jams that display a range of dynamics and themes.
I've often said, it's much harder to play slow afrobeat well than fast, and this album is a great example of how to execute a dynamic range. Utilizing slow, winding, interlocking guitar grooves, multi-layered percussion, and deep horn arrangements, Hard Proof sets a down-tempo, sinister mood on tracks such as Stolen Goods, Jimma and Mahout. They pick up the tempo on tracks like No Consideration, Buffalo, and Move In, but it's the slower tracks that creep along that truly stick out on this album.
01. soft bullets
02. raw raw
03. move in
06. no consideration
09. stolen goods
13. lion of mali
15. buzz bizz
Labels: Hard Proof
Nov 15, 2010
Legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti’s 1969 trip to the US changed everything. It was here he first encountered the two things that would change his musical and personal direction forever. The Black Panthers and James Brown. The tour to the US however was a mess, shows dried up, they didn’t have work permits, and they finally landed in Los Angeles broke and dispirited. But that’s the second half of this disc. The first is Fela’s original band Koola Lobitos and recordings they made between 1964 and 68. This is pre US and features Fela writing music in what he termed a ‘highlife jazz’ style. Surprisingly it’s really good, making it clear that Fela and his crew who at the time also included drummer Tony Allen were very proficient musicians, still creating highly composed, technically complex and at times quite playful music (during one tune Fela touches on the strains of ‘The Saints Go Marching In‘ during a trumpet solo), albeit in a less innovative manner than he would go on to.
The difference with the Los Angeles sessions however hits you like a slap in the face. You can’t fail to hear it, not just in the improved quality of the recordings, but in also the supremely funky bass guitars and those funk horns. Whilst there are still traces of highlife, you can hear the growing influence of American funk music not in the least in Fela’s proclamations. It’s the sound of a band in the state of flux, midway between where they began and their destination. Whilst the most well known piece here is My Lady Frustration, which feels like the first tentative steps towards Afrobeat, with Fela well off the mic kind’ve just humming along to it and doing a few little nonsensical James Brown type utterings, the next nine pieces feel quite exploratory the mixture of highlife, funk and what we’d come to know as Afrobeat really reaping some great results. His newfound political interests come to the fore on Viva Nigeria, a gentle groove over which Fela, spoken word style, pleads with Africa to unite together. “Long live Nigeria, Viva Africa, we are all Nigeria, we are all Africans.” Whilst there is still a long way to go it’s fascinating to hear the seeds being sown, not to mention that this music stands up in its own right, possessing a charm and passion significantly different, perhaps a little more naive than the rest of the great mans work.
Source: Bob Baker Fish
It's a shock to hear Fela Kuti, the furious, rabble-rousing godfather of Afro-beat, singing perky little high-life tunes about good times, but that's exactly what he did with his first band, Koola Lobitos, back in the mid-'60s. The first half of this set presents the band's hybrid of swinging London grooviness and African jazz, with Fela playing trumpet at least as much as he sings. In 1969, he took the band (renamed Nigeria 70) to Los Angeles. Within a few months, he'd become radically politicized and started writing songs like "Viva Nigeria." The singles he recorded in America, collected on the disc's second half, are the bridge to the full-blown Afro-beat that blossomed a year or two later--spindly, propulsive funk riffs explored thoroughly. There's a newfound, roaring confidence coming through in Fela's voice, even as he gets a few last stabs at R&B structure (like "Lover") out of his system.
Source: Douglas Wolk
In 1969 Fela and his band (then called the Koola Lobitas) visited Los Angeles for eight months. There Fela was first exposed to the black-liberationist teachings of Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver. He also recorded these tracks cheaply and on the hoof, subsequently releasing them as singles back home. And while Fela was already familiar with James Brown's volcanic soul music, these relatively short tunes (some of whose vamps eventually made their way into longer tracks down the line) contain an American funk urgency absent from Fela's Nigerian recordings--and note his emulation of saxophonist Maceo Parker. Ghanaian trumpeter Duke Lumumba ups the solo quality considerably, especially on "Funky Horn."
Source: Richard Gehr
Recorded in 1969 under duress courtesy of the Department of Immigration and Naturalization, the Los Angeles Sessions are among the earliest glimpse of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's developing Afrobeat sound. What makes this release different from much of his recorded work is the length and number of songs: ten tracks, average length 4:39. Unusual, since most Fela material is 15 minutes or more. The foundation of this music is still the classic highlife sound, but there are influences here that bespeak Fela's absorption with funk and soul. In fact, the opening track, "My Lady Frustration," sounds so much like James Brown, you'd swear it was Jimmy Nolen playing guitar and Clyde Stubblefield on the drums. A good intro for Fela neophytes, but by no means the only Fela recording you should own. Also, tracks like "Nigeria" show how important radical politics were in informing his sound.
Source: John Dougan
1. Highlife Time
2. Omuti Tide
3. Ololufe Mi
4. Wadele Wa Rohin
5. Laise Lairo
6. Wayo (1st Version)
7. My Lady Frustration
8. Viva Nigeria
12. Wayo (2nd Version)
14. Funky Horn
16. This Is Sad
Labels: Fela Kuti
Nov 11, 2010
Another great Vampisoul Records publication!!!
From the vaults of Philips in Nigeria comes this collection of mysterious trumpeter and bandleader Bola Johnson. Unmissable 60s and early 70s recordings for all highlife and Afrobeat fans. A missing jewel from a golden age of Nigerian music.
Up till now, Bola Johnson only seems to figure in the margins of the high octane Lagos music scene of the late 60s and early 70s. He may have never had the focus, the career longevity or the catalogue of titans like Afrobeat's Fela Kuti, juju's King Sunny Ade or highlife's Victor Olaiya, but his music took its own magnificent route through the popular music of the time. His joyful treasure of a voice embellished every style in his repertoire, from the sweetly melodic heights of highlife and palm wine to the soulful skanking of Afro-blues/funk and Afrobeat; his red hot trumpet scorches its way to your yearning soul; his tunes vibrate with infectious hooks and undulating rhythms; he seems equally at home composing across the stylistic range… Funk? Calypso? Highlife? You got it!
Bola Johnson was born in 1947 into a musical family. He attended Livingstone Academy in Lagos and, after that, the prestigious Eko Boys High School. In 1962 he dropped out of school to follow his musical destiny. His trumpet dreams were inflamed by his time playing with Nigerian trumpet-playing legend and highlife maestro Eddy Okonta, but he joined Eric Akeaze's highlife band as a singer and maracas player in that same year, then resident at the Easy Life Hotel, in Mokola, Ibadan, which was the hub of the music scene in Nigeria in the 60s. When Eric Akeaze and his band left the Easy Life Hotel, Bola was asked to stay and set up the Easy Life Top Beats. They also toured the northern part of Nigeria. When Bola returned south, this time to Lagos later in 1968, he and his musicians were match fit and ready to make their funkiest tracks.
In 1964, while still only 17 years old, Bola had been signed to the Philips West African record label, and he recorded many of the rootsier tracks you can hear on this album as 7-inch singles. In 1968, in Lagos, he recorded the funkier material on his "Papa Rebecca Special" LP and later a rootsier album entitled "Ashewo Ajegunle Yakare". Given how great he sounds, you've just got to ask exactly why more material wasn't recorded. According to Bola, the A&R people at Philips in those days allowed sentiment for the past to override their judgment in promoting new artists, because they had highlife giants on their label such as Osita Osadebe, Rex Lawson, Victor Olaiya and Bobby Benson, and so it was hard for younger artists to get their attention, backing and consequent exposure.
Additionally, it was always difficult for him to own musical instruments, and bandleaders were the people who owned and supplied their musicians with musical hardware. Of course, you must factor in the civil war and the consequent decrease in popularity of highlife. Then the rise of juju, Afrobeat and the briefly fashionable Afro-rock. Classic and unique as Bola's approach was, it didn't seem to light the same kind of fuse for young Lagos. As his musical opportunities began to go off the boil, Bola went into broadcasting, firstly at Radio Nigeria Ibadan in 1970 and then he moved to the FRCN (Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) in 1973. Sometimes he played at the Cool Cat in Ebute Metta, Lagos.
These days, Bola lives in Ikorodu, a suburb of Lagos. He still writes music and looks forward to making new recordings.
The irrepressible Vampisoul label presents a wonderful overview of Nigerian legend, Bola Johnson. With all the attention afforded to Fela Kuti, Victor Olaiya and King Sunny Ade, Bola seems to have slipped by all but the most ardent collectors and Nigerian natives, that is until Kayode Samuel painstakingly researched and dug deep in the crates to collect these twenty two track, spread over two discs. As you'll discover when dipping in, Bola was a charming personality who could adapt his charming vocals and trumpet playing to a range of styles, from Calypso to Funk, Highlife and Afrobeat. Disc 1 contains the Afrobeat spiced palm wine styles of 'Asewo Ajegunle Yakare', the frisky merengue-like rhythms of his house band Easy Life Top Beats on 'Oro Aiye', and the swinging highlife of 'Iyawo Kokoro Mi Da' with its charming soap opera intro. Disc 2 opens with the killer drums of 'Mimo Mimo Loluwo' (sample hunters beware), before firing up the deadly James Brown-debted Yoruba Funk of 'Ezuku Bozo' and 'Lagos Sisi', plus the infectious blues licks and conga shake of 'Lagos Special', and heartwarming rootsy Highlife in 'Edumare Soro'. Once word gets out about this album, there's gonna be a stampede from the Afrobeat lovers!
1. Baby £1:10 /-
2. Somebody Find Me Trouble
3. Iyawo Kokoro Mi Da
4. Money Hard
5. Oh My Baby Josephine
6. Obiriko Aye N Yilo
7. Asewo Ajegunle Yakare
8. Oro Aiye
9. Koto Ye O
10. Buroda Mase
12. Mimo Mimo Loluwo
13. Ezuku Buzo
14. Hot Pants
15. Mele Latori
16. Lagos Sisi
18. Lagos Special
19. Never Part 1
20. Edumare Soro
21. Pappa Rebecca Special 1 (She's A Woman)
22. Nigeria Drive On The Right
Labels: Bola Johnson
Nov 9, 2010
The musical traditions of Ghana have been explored and extended by Ghana-born and Seattle-based drummer, composer and bandleader Obo Addy. Together with his world beat band, Kukrudu, and traditional quartet, Okropong, Addy continues to be one of Ghana's greatest musical ambassadors. A recipient of the prestigious national Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts, Addy has toured extensively through the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.
The son of a Wonche priest and medicine man, Addy was exposed, as a youngster, to the rituals and traditions of the Ga people of Ghana. This included the drumming, dancing and singing that accompanied his father's work. Addy has been playing music since earliest memory. Although he began by playing bells at village rituals, he soon switched to the drums. Joining Joe Kelly's Band, at the age of eighteen, Addy learned to play and sing western pop music in theaters, hotels and night clubs in the capitol city of Accra. A year later, he joined the Builder's Brigade Band.
In 1961, Addy joined the Farmers Council of Ghana, an organization dedicated to educating farmers through drama, music and cinema. The same year, Addy was inspired to present concerts of traditional music. The show, Edzo, was debuted at Accra Stadium. In 1962, Addy became assistant leader of the Farmers Band and master drummer and leader of the group's traditional unit. He remained with the group until 1966. Leaving the Farmers Band, in 1966, Addy formed a band to perform popular music from around the globe at the Continental Hotel. Two years later, he accepted an invitation to join the Ghana Broadcasting Band.
In 1969, Addy formed a band, Anasi Krumian Soundz, the group group to exclusively use traditional Ghanaian instruments including the giri (African xylophone), Atentenben (bamboo flute), Whi (whistle) and calabash (rattles). The group performed in clubs, theaters and embassies and worked for the American peace Corps and Canadian Voluntary Service. At the same time, Addy studied, taught and performed traditional music of the Ewe, Ashanti, Fanti, Dagomba, Nafana, Konkomba and Ga people at the Arts Council of Ghana. The experience provided an opportunity to begin fusing traditional and contemporary African music. After touring in Israel, in June, 1972, with other members of the Arts Council, Addy formed a band, Oboade ("Ancient"), with his brothers. Following a successful performance at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, Addy and Oboade began touring worldwide.
The group made their U.S. debut in 1973 at the invitation of the Cultural Enrichment Program of Washington to perform in state schools and universities. Together with his brother, Yacub Addy, Addy moved to the United States in 1977 and formed a band, Ablade, with American musicians. Two years later, Addy began teaching private lessons and performed for six weeks in the Black Repertory Theater's production of "For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf". Forming a new band, Kukrudu, in 1981, Addy and the band recorded two albums -- "Obo" in 1983 and "Obo Addy/Kukrudu" in 1984. In 1986, Addy recorded a traditional solo album, "Born In The Tradition" and a contemporary album, "African-American". The traditional and contemporary sides of Addy's musical persona continued to be explored in 1987. While Kukrudu performed at the Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton jazz festivals, Addy also assembled a four-piece group, Okropong, to focus on traditional music and dance.
In 1989, Addy developed a music and dance concert production that traced the history, culture and meaning of Highlife music in Ghana. Funded by the NEA, he toured with the production throughout California. Addy's composition, "Wawshisijay (Our Beginning)," was recorded by the Kronos Quartet and featured on their chart-topping 1992 album, Pieces of Africa. The same year, Addy's album, Let Me Play My Drums, which spent one month on the "Billboard World Music" chart. In 1994, Addy released a solo album, The Rhythm Of Which A Chief walks Gracefully and performed with the Charlestown Symphony String Quartet. The following year, he performed three new compositions with the Kronos String Quartet in Seattle.
Addy has taught African song, dance and drumming in schools, including The Cornish Institute and Lewis And Clark College, and has done residencies at African-American Centers in North Carolina, the Sweetwater Art Center in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, Washington State University in Pullman, Washington and Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
There's not as much info on small Portland independent label Velocet outside of Rich Halley's website:
Avocet...was created by my friend Hal Lee who I've known since the mid-'70s. He was originallv a drummer and student of Dave Storrs who got interested in recording and used my basement to set up a small recording studio. He recorded my first record there and did Obo Addy's first record there, and decided to start a label for creative music. Later Hal moved the studio into his own building.
Craig Harris, AllMusic
1 I Love My Drums
2 Don't Go
3 Africa Speaks, America Answers
4 Hama Fe Shikome
5 Feelings Of All
6 Awinada (Bakofa)
8 We Say
Labels: Obo Addy
“When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of Princes.” - W. S. ’s Julius Caesar
By the 15th of October 2008, the Legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti one of the greatest Socio-Political musicians to come out of Africa in three millennia would have been 70 years old. At the “New Africa Shrine” built by his son Femi in Lagos, Nigeria, Afrobeat lovers and fans have been celebrating the “Felabration”, a two week group of festivities to mark the 11th anniversary of his passing as well as celebrating his 70th “Birthday”. Nothing can compare with the day Fela was buried ten years ago. Millions of Nigerians travelled from afar and wide to be a part of it. Foreign “Felasophers” and “Felaphiles” came from all corners of the globe to attend. Fela’s death was the greatest shock to hit Africa, nay the World.
According to a press conference on the 3rd of August 1997 summoned by the late Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti, Fela’s elder brother, Fela died of complications of AIDS the previous day aged 59. The death of the greatest force in modern Music from out of Africa drew to a close the greatest socio-political impact of African music on the world since the 400-year Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.
Fela was not an ordinary Nigerian, far from it. Fela means, “One who emanates greatness”. When he was aged 35, he rejected his European given surname of Ransome and replaced it with Anikulapo, which means “One who has death in his pouch”. Added to the meaning of his last name, Kuti that means”Will not die”, the echoes of his weird manifestation from beyond the grave possibly find a bizarre explanation. For a man whose military Head of State was once introduced at a European Summit in the 1970’s as, “The President of Fela’s Country,” his transition was as controversial as his life had been. The portents of his death were equally awe-inspiring. On the day that Fela died in a high-class hospital on Victoria Island Lagos, the whole State was overcast with great black clouds. Crashing thunder sundered the skies while flashes of lighting seared the eyes, but there was no rain. Surely, these were signs that a great man had died! If this could have been counted as coincidence, then the presages on his burial day were incontrovertible.
On the 12th of August 1997, Fela’s remains were buried at his Gbemisola Street Ikeja, Lagos residence after a Laying in State ceremony, which took place in the open arena of the Tafawa Balewa Square. To avoid the utter bedlam that would ensue were Fela’s remains to be brought to the arena in the daytime; the body was to be moved from the hospital to the venue at 4.a.m. After Remi (now late) the wife of his youth and mother of Femi his first son said her tearful goodbyes, the coffin was closed finally and the funeral cortège departed in a four-car convoy. Less than 400 meters on, the cars ground to a halt as the engines all died, and their headlight lenses shattered simultaneously. Next, a row of food shacks just beside the cars collapsed unto one another. Immediately this happened, all the engines came alive again, and the lights came on. The rest of the journey went without mishap until the cortège reached the venue and the Hearse halted beside the Dais. Suddenly, a long row of about 20 tall potted plants arranged alongside the pedestal toppled over in synchrony although untouched by human hands. “Fela again?” Everyone looked around fearfully. Was he sending signals from beyond the grave? Did Abami Eda, Omo Eleniyan really defy death? Did he really have the power to reach out from beyond the grave? Was he as potent in death as he was in life? Who was this enigma?
The giant Signs that formed the Coping of the funerary setting said it all. “BABA 70” (Overlord of the seventies) is an acknowledgement of his unequalled musical prowess. He was called “CHIEF PRIEST” by fans because of his pursuit of African traditional belief systems. He had gone into the study of the occult practices of his ancestors and his music amphitheatre was aptly named the “African Shrine”. Each musical show took on the form of a worship session and it began with the pouring of libation, invocations and worship at the shrine, with Fela as Chief Priest. The name “OMO IYA AJE” (The Witch’s Son) came about because of the reputed inherited witchcraft power from his mother who sent the Alake of Abeokuta; Oba Ademola II, one of the greatest Kings in Yoruba land (a nation-tribe of over 40 million) and custodian of the arcane traditions of the people, into exile. Some considered Fela an equally powerful male witch. The appellation, “ABAMI EDA” (Weird Creature) underlined Fela’s strange philosophy, non-conformism, unconventional attitudes and otherworldliness. Fela’s greatest nickname though, was “BLACK PRESIDENT” in recognition of his universal appeal to all Africans and as President of his “Kalakuta Republic”, within the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Fela was loved and followed across the spectrum of society. Millions were open in their adulation and many because of their positions of responsibility, hid their love for him in public and disguised themselves on their incognito visits to shrine. All were present to file past the coffin. Over a million Nigerians of all ethnicities lined up in orderly lines to take a last look at Baba 70, the music Maestro. Strangely, there was no pushing or shoving, and Businessman and Tout, Dilettante and Tart alike, lined up and filed quietly past the all-glass coffin to pay their last respect. It was as if no one believed he was truly gone and everyone accorded him the obedience they gave when he was alive. Fela could silence the greatest mob in his lifetime with one word. Such was the awe in which the masses held him. To them he was like a god. To be obeyed unhesitatingly. Fela meant something to everyone and was everything to some people.
A funeral procession that spanned the 26-kilometer breadth of Greater Lagos and involved close to two million people ground the City to a halt on that day, as all businesses closed down in fear of the utter mayhem that would be unleashed on the city. Fela was buried in the courtyard of his Ikeja Lagos home amidst jeers, singing, dancing and billowing clouds of Marijuana smoke, which Fela had named “Nigerian National Grass” in one of his songs. The serving Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Tsav was present with a retinue of men. Tears accompanied the sudden shower that fell as Fela’s eldest son, Femi blew a farewell dirge on his Saxophone as the body was lowered into the grave. The Marble Vault was immediately sealed and guarded to deter those who might want a part of him. Fela was the only true champion of the masses; the poor, vagrant, the vagabond, the disenfranchised and the abandoned. These were the type that Franz Fanon had described as, “The Wretched of the Earth”. It is in this unfortunate cadre of life that hooligans, miscreants and drug addicts abound, those for whom violence is an every day fact of life with every waking moment a struggle for survival. They had lost their champion and were not happy. They took their anger out on the society. Thousands occupied the streets of Lagos beyond midnight committing rape and larceny more than six hours after he had been buried. Fela’s death shook Lagos, nay Nigeria. To some a hero had died, to others it was good riddance, but a legend lives on.
Fela is gone, but his music lives on. The outstanding legacy he bequeathed to the world is embodied in Femi Kuti and his Positive Force Band who tour the world for more than six months yearly; Seun, Fela’s youngest son who leads Fela’s former Band Egypt ‘80 to International shows; former Fela Band member and founding partner of Femi Kuti’s Positive Force like Dele Sosinmi and his Afrobeat Orchestra Sound now based in London; other Fela Band Members like Kola Ogunkoya who took Afrobeat into Christian Pentecostal Church Music; Dede Mabiaku, his protégé and ‘clone’; Keji the multi-instrumentalist, Tony Allen the King of Afrobeat Drums, Duro Ikujenyo the Keyboards Maestro and his ‘Age of Aquarius’ Band. Lagbaja’s unnamed music style reverberates with Afrobeat. Alariwo and many other Nigerians are fully Afrobeat musicians. Outside Nigeria there are bands formed in the Afrobeat genre such as Antibalas, Kokolo and Femm Nameless a 10-Piece strong all-Female Band, all based in New York … FELA LIVES ON!!!
by Femi Seguna, nigeriavillagesquare.com
Nov 5, 2010
Antibalas Afrobeat consists of 12 members currently and has just released a new album called “Security”. The instrumentation is two saxophones, two trumpets, two guitars, three rhythm sections, one organ, one bass and one singer.
The band is filled with dedicated musicians who sound amazing going solo, the combination is genius. Funky and jazzy with almost every type of rhythm you can imagine.
Antibalas was formed 9 years ago by baritone saxophone player Martin Perna.
I had the opportunity to sit down with the Martin Perna before the amazing show at the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill.
Congratulations on getting Afrobeat out to people.
Afrobeat is a hard music to push forward because it’s hard to commodify a music that is uncommodifyable because the songs are typically 10 to 15 minutes long and that length doesn’t fit well on commercial radio. Also, the fact that it’s a politically conscious music keeps it out of mainstream radio and so the more mainstream and corporate controlled that mainstream becomes the less chance we have of cracking into it, even though our music is getting tighter and stronger.
The new album is called “Security”; I am going to name off the songs and you say what you want about them. Beaten Metal?
That is a composition by our lead tenor saxophone player Stuart Bogie. It is an instrumental which is inspired by the way armaments like artillery shells and weapons of World War II in Europe were beaten and melted down into musical instruments. The Bible talks about turning swords into plowshares so this is like a similar transformation. A lot of the best metal was used first for weapons and then because it was good metal it was used for musical instruments. My saxophone was made in France in the early sixties so it is very possible that it could have been part of a tank.
That is a expose of the hypocrisy of the Republican party about how they promised us no child left behind and the education system is worse then it has ever been and they promised us clean air and they choked the sky with all these coal fired power plants that they are trying to build so it’s like out own ‘State of the Union’ in Afrobeat form.
It’s almost like a slow romantic groove.
Its about the plight of a soldier and how soldiers are promised all these heroic duties and a lot of times they are just good average guys that are going in mission but the mission is never up for them to decide and they sign up thinking that they are going into do good when they end up following orders and doing horrible stuff. It talks about the complexities of the life of a soldier without necessarily judging the soldier and saying your bad because of a lot of that anti war stuff….it’s evolved and I think a lot of people know that soldiers don’t sign up because they want to go over there and kill innocent people, they are over there to pay for college, there are no other jobs around, they are trying to, in their minds, confront this whole terrorist threat but the united states created the terrorists, the united states built Al Qaeda so the soldiers are trapped in this world of being forced to follow orders and a lot of times the orders are the opposite of what they intended on doing.
That’s another instrumental and it stands for ‘Ice covers England” and it is about the global change we are seeing now.
Another instrumental that is written by our other guitarist Luke O’ Malley.
You guys have gone through sleeping on dressing room floors, using raw eggs to seal up the van’s radiator, and relied on faith that you will get a gig where you land. Do you have any good stories not mentioned here?
It’s evolved. We are a little bit better known but at the same time, operating such a large group really keeps us humble. We roll in these big 15 passenger vans like two to a seat. There is nobody wiping our butts for us. The gigs are better, the crowds are better but eighty percent of it is the same hustle. Crossing borders is always hard, we got stripped searched through Canada, and it was really embarrassing. We are just trying to play conscious music knowing that we are not really part of a solution or anything but knowing that we are part of a larger group of artists in all different genres of music from country to rock and roll to reggae to punk, that see that something is very wrong. America is sick, the world is very sick but America in trying to push its values to the whole world is just accelerating that process, like America has some answers but it doesn’t have all the answers and it pretends like it does. We see all this hypocrisy, the rest of the world is trying to deal with global climate change and America still has people in the white house saying that human beings have nothing to do with the climate change and so we are just trying to put forward a message that you don’t have to screw people over to survive, and we are trying to cultivate a healthy country instead of an unhealthy empire. All these bits of knowledge and stories and links between different groups, we need to connect all these people and hold them responsible for the way they have sold out the country.
Have you seen any discrimination because of your political messages?
Well we haven’t been beaten up by fascist police. On one hand it’s a good thing but on the other hand it shows how strong this machine is that all these journalists and music could come out and expose not just the Republicans but Democrats and show all these corrupt people for who they are, but they are so powerful that the information could be floating and it still doesn’t touch them. I mean it might put Scooter Libby in jail but Dick Cheney is still running and making gazillion dollars. It’s weird.
Has boycotting commercial venues been hard to work around?
The first year we did all block parties and no commercial venues because I didn’t want to start the band out in places that exist to sell drinks. Even this club tonight, they make a certain amount of money off of the bar and what they make at the door is probably a lot less then that. I don’t want to be an alcohol salesman, I mean I drink, I’m not against it but for a group like this and the kind of message we want to put forth we want to start out in community events and work from the ground up.
You guys played Rikers Island Prison Facility(New York’s largest jail facility)?
Prison is a huge industry and it’s been like that for a long time. They’ve been building prisons faster then they could fill them up and sticking people in there while society pays for it, so it was wonderful to be able to go behind the bars and share music with those prisoners and let them know that there are people on the outside thinking about them that were man enough to let us come through.
Plans for the future?
Touring, recording, everyone has their side projects cultivating. I want to get to Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, all places I have been but never with the band. It’s a tricky thing because we don’t have big money behind us so some things take longer to manifest.