Feb 25, 2011

From Benin: Picoby Band D'Abomey

The following article of Picoby Band D'Abomey was orginally published by radiodiffusion.wordpress.com:

Orchestre Picoby-Band were Abomey, which was the former capitol of the kingdom of Dahomey, which is now known as Benin.

Dahomey was under French rule until the country gained it’s independence in 1960. For the next 12 years, ethnic strife contributed to a period of turbulence. There were several coups and regime changes, with three main figures dominating – Sourou Apithy, Hubert Maga, and Justin Ahomadegbé – each of them representing a different area of the country. These three agreed to form a presidential council after violence had marred the 1970 elections. In 1972, a military coup led by Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the council. He established a Marxist government under the control of Military Council of the Revolution (CNR), and the country was renamed to the People’s Republic of Benin in 1975.

As for Orchestre Picoby-Band… This single was the first of three that they released in sequence on L.A. Aux Ecoutes. And I have read that they also released two other singles on the Albarika Store label. All of the songs on the L.A. Aux Ecoutes singles are credited to Avolonto Honore, who also wrote songs for fellow countymen El Rego and Orchestre Poly-Rhytmo, as well as recording under his own name.

On the African Scream Contest compilation, released by on Analog Africa, Samy Ben Redjeb interviewed Nicolas Gomez, who the band leader and guitarist of the Picoby-Band

The band formed in 1953. They were looking for a lead guitarist so I joined them in 1955. The first few years we really struggled, mostly because we had really crappy equipment! That changed radically in 1980. We had written to the cultural centre in Abomey asking for financial help; so did Renova Band, another great group from this town. The cultural centre didn’t have enough cash to support both groups so they decided to organize a competition, with the winner receiving 500.000 CPA. We won and with the cash we bought all kinds of instruments! We then participated in first national music festival, in 1965. The government would invite one band from each, (there were six states at the time). We represented Le Zou. At the end we came in third. La Sondas took first, followed by Annassoua Jazz.

In 1976 we participated in, the Festival des Arts et des Cultures. For that festival we changed our name to Echos du Zou. Super Borgou de Parakou won. We took second place with a traditional track containing revolutionary lyrics called Mi So Gbe. Although Orchestre PoIy-Rythmo was the better band, they made a few mistakes during that contest. The whole band arrived on their brand new motorbikes. Remember it was in 1976, we had the revolution going on here, and Benin was a socialist country at that time. I guess the jury didn’t like those bikes too much. Also. Poly-Rythmo were supposed to compose a song based on the traditional rhythms from their region, but they just played those crazy Jerks.

The two winners of that ‘76 contest, Super Borgou and us, were both going to represent Benin at Festac 77 in Lagos. Unfortunately our equipment was far too weak for such an important show, so we decided to team up with Poly-Rythmo – they had all those fancy Marshall and Orange amps. So we combined the three bands and became L’Orchesrte National du Benin. Mêlomê Clément was President de l’orchesrtre and Moussa Mama Djima was Chef d’orchesrtre. We came in second.


Information by orogod.blogspot.com:

Orchestra Picoby Band has been already introduced on Oro here, but it deserves a more complete post. The band is from Abomey and was found in 1953. It is one of the oldest band from Benin with Renova Band, also from Abomey or Super Star de Ouidah. Those three bands only recorded EP's. Picoby Band recorded at least seven 7-inches singles. Here are four of them. Most of the tracks were afro-beat tunes recorded on Lawani Affisoulayi's label Aux Ecoutes and composed by they great Honore Avolonto. It was around 1970.

On the first record, "Dieu Merci" ("Thank's God") is a very nice soukous tune and "Honton Ve Zoun" a powerful jerk, both composed by Honore Avolonto.

Second record is also composed by Honore Avolonto. "Mi Hon Noun Gbeto" is an excellent pachanga with very good congas sound recording. "Ye Houe Deou" is another jerk tune.

On the third record Honore Avolonto composed "Vikou..." which is called soukous but it does not sound like. "Jo Ahi Nou Se" is a great Afro-Beat tune composed by Sanoussi Mouminou but sang by Avolonto.

Finally, the fourth record has been recorded on Albarika Store's label and composed by Sanoussi Mouminou. The single "Mi Ma Kpe Dji" is a great afro-beat tune sang by Avolonto. "Lidia" is a nice and cool Highlife tune sang by an anonymous singer. I think that this record was released after 1970.

Feb 15, 2011

New album: Ebo Taylor - Life Stories

Information by Strut Records

ollowing his recent studio album with Afrobeat Academy, ’Love And Death’, his first international release, Ghanaian highlife guitar legend Ebo Taylor teams up again with Strut for a long overdue definitive compilation of his seminal 1970s recordings, ‘Life Stories’.

During Ghana’s highlife explosion during the 1950s and ‘60s following wartime highlife pioneers like E.T. Mensah, Ebo Taylor made his name as a prolific composer, arranger and frontman leading two of Ghana’s greatest big bands - Stargazers and Broadway Dance Band. Moving to London to study music in 1962 alongside West African luminaries like Fela Kuti and Peter King, Taylor formed the Black Star Highlife Band and began incorporating jazz elements into traditional highlife forms.

Returning to Ghana, Taylor became an in-house arranger and producer for Dick Essilfie-Bondzie’s Essiebons label, working with other major Ghanaian stars like C.K. Mann and Pat Thomas. Through the ’70s, he then recorded a number of solo projects, exploring unique fusions and borrowing elements from regional Ghanaian folk music, Afrobeat, jazz, soul and funk.

This compilation revisits this heyday of Taylor’s work, focusing on his solo albums and some of his lesser known side projects including the dynamite Apagya Show Band and short-lived Taylor-led combos Assase Ase, Super Sounds Namba and The Pelikans. The selection also touches on his writing and production work for C.K. Mann and a collaboration recording with fellow member of early ‘70s nightclub band Blue Monks, Pat Thomas.

Tracks include the anthemic ’Heaven’, sampled by Usher on his hit with Ludacris, ’She Don’t Know’, the original version of the poignant ’Love And Death’ and the rare 15-minute nugget, ’Aba Yaa’. The package features rare photos, original album artwork and sleeve notes by Soundway Records’ Miles Cleret.


An introduction by Marc Gabriel Amigone (afrobeatblog.blogspot.com)

As I've said before, Ebo Taylor is one of the funkiest people to ever walk the earth. Life Stories, his second collaboration with Strut Records set to be released April 11, 2011, is a retrospective compilation showcasing his work with several ensembles throughout his career. Any lover of African funk has to take notice of Ebo Taylor. His ability as a composer and arranger put him in an elite class of musicians and allowed for him to collaborate with some of the best musicians in West Africa throughout the 1960's and 70's.

Taylor released his first internationally distributed studio album, Love and Death, on Strut late last year. Life Stories represents his songwriting and arranging work with several different artists and ensembles. Taylor's ability to combine African rhythmic elements with the American funk aesthetic set him apart from other musicians of his generation. Talylor's signature wah-pedal infused guitar lines combined with inventive horn lines distinguished him as an arranger. Life Stories captures that signature style on several tracks throughout.

If you're serious about African funk or you simply have a passing interest, you should def check out this comp. To amass this much music in one place would have taken years of crate digging and several trips to Africa. Strut has done all the work, so take full advantage.


Review for "Love and death" from Marc Gabriel Amigone

Ebo Taylor is one of the funkiest people to ever walk the earth. Love and Death, his first internationally released studio album out October 24th on Strut Records, is a continuation of Taylor's already legendary legacy as a composer and performer of African music.

Starting in the late 1950's, Taylor was an extremely influential figure in the Ghanaian music scene. He composed, arranged and performed in several leading highlife bands such as the Stargazers and Broadway Dance Band. He traveled to London with his own ensemble in 1962, The Black Star Highlife Band sponsored by the Ghanaian High Commission. It was in London that he collaborated and experimented with other African musicians such as Fela Anikulapo Kuti, "I knew Fela very well. He was my friend.

Upon returning to Ghana, Taylor further cemented himself in the Accra music scene working as an in-house producer for the major record labels of the time such as Essiebons and Gapophone. He wrote for and recorded with other burgeoning stars like C.K. Mann and Pat Thomas. As his career continued to unfold, Taylor recorded several solo projects creating his own new sound. He melded elements of traditional Ghanaian music with afrobeat, jazz and funk, and recorded some of the most highly regarded Ghanaian funk music of the era.

As African funk music from the 1970's has become increasingly in demand over the last 5-10 years, Ebo Taylor's music has seen a resurgence in popularity appearing on compilations from Soundway Records and Analog Africa. His music has been sampled by contemporary hip-hop producers both in Africa and The United States. Taylor has always had an innate sense of how to emphasize certain Western elements in his music such as the wah-wah guitar pedal and JB's influenced horn lines to compliment the more pronounced African elements such as traditional African percussion and Ghanaian lyrics. Similar to Fela's afrobeat, his music was extremely funky while at the same time carrying a strong African persona.

Recorded with Berlin-based collective Afrobeat Academy, Love and Death is a conscious effort on the part of Taylor to advance the afrobeat movement: "For the new album, I wanted to advance the cause of Afrobeat music. Fela started it and we shouldn't just abandon it. We should push it so it is a standard form of music." Taylor accomplishes his goal and then some. Love and Death is an incredibly fluid album composed of eight tracks that attack from the first note and don't let up throughout. Tracks like "african woman," "victory," and "mizin" are all aggressive uptempo songs that use interlocking guitars parts, punchy horn lines, hard-driving drums and percussion to push the song forward.

Taylor's voice reveals the character and history of a 74-year old man. You can hear the experience and age as it cuts through the aggressive afrobeat soundscape. It's amazing to think that in a career filled with as much amazing music and as many prominent collaborations as Taylor's, Love and Death will be his first internationally distributed album.


01. Heaven - 6:06
02. Atwer Abroba - 8:12
03. Victory - 4:19
04. Ohiani Sua Efir - 4:02
05. Kwaku Ananse - 3:12
06. Peace On Earth - 7:44
07. Aba Yaa - 14:58
08. Ene Nyame 'A' Mensuro - 6:17
09. Tamfo Nyi Ekyir - 3:57
10. Love And Death - 8:18
11. Ohye Atar Gyan - 6:05
12. Yes Indeed - 4:54
13. Mumude - 3:03
14. What Is Life - 4:38
15. Etuei - 6:27
16. Egya Edu - 6:52

Feb 11, 2011

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by allaboutjazz.com (Pt.XV)

Source: allaboutjazz.com

Part 15 - Femi Kuti: Africa For Africa / Antibalas: Who Is This America?

Femi Kuti - Africa For Africa

Two decades and more down the line with his band, Positive Force, singer and multi-instrumentalist Femi Kuti gets better and better. His take on rhythm may not be the same as that of his father—and why should it be?—but in other respects Femi is keeping Fela's musical flame alive. Positive Force is a horns heavy, ass kicking little big band; Femi's use of call and response vocals is at least as sophisticated as his father's; and, perhaps most important of all, Femi is an uplifting lyricist not afraid to take on the same issues, and confront the same venal class of politicians, military and bureaucrats, as Fela.

Most of the tracks on Africa For Africa last between three and five minutes—short by the measure set down by Fela and not permitting the extended instrumental sections which were a feature of Afrika 70 and Egypt 80 albums. But every one of the 14 pieces, even the shortest, which runs to just a couple of verses, contains some of the same vivid lyric writing which distinguished Fela's songs.

Outstanding among them are "Nobody Beg You," "Make We Remember" and "Obasanjo Don Play You Wayo." On the first and third of these, Femi uses the vocal chorus not only to repeat and drive home his own lines but also, as Fela did on some of his greatest songs (unforgettably on "Zombie"), to itself move the plot on by delivering the punch line which the lead singer has set up. So, on "Obasanjo Don Play You Wayo," after Femi has castigated the Nigerian judicial system for its shameful, 40-year (and counting) failure to root out and punish political corruption, it is the chorus who lock the lyric down with the chant: "(you cannot jail) friend to the, brother to the, sister to the, father to the, mother to the, daughter to the, wife of the senator." And on "Nobody Beg You," after Femi has sung "nobody beg you to be public servant," it is the chorus who deliver: "na dem dey beg us to be public servant." The sense of togetherness and shared values which Fela fostered at Kalakuta Republic and the original Shrine club is in Femi's music, as it was in Fela's, reflected in microcosm in this symbiotic relationship between lead singer and chorus.

Femi is a catchy songwriter too, and strong melodic motifs populate his hooklines and arrangements; most of the tempos and atmospheres on Africa For Africa are fierce and assertive, but they are tempered by tunefulness. The horn arrangements are more global in outlook than those typically used by Fela, with more Caribbean and Latin traces; but like Fela's, they're rich, turbulent and propulsive, and nearly as important to each song as the vocal topline. Femi's rhythms too are more eclectic than his father's, including West African, Latin, funk and Caribbean patterns.

Ears so far attuned only to Fela's original Afrobeat may need minor recalibration for Femi's spin to take hold. Give it a chance, it's well worth it.


Antibalas - Who Is This America?

Brooklyn's superb Antibalas has been together for about a decade and long ago developed into an authentic Afrobeat outfit. Much of the success of the Broadway musical Fela! derives from Antibalas' performance and the in-the-tradition arrangements of its trombonist Aaron Johnson and trumpeter Jordan McLean, now released as Fela! Original Broadway Cast Recording.

Reissued (with a bonus track) to ride the Fela! wave, Who Is This America? was originally released in 2004, and six years later still sounds every bit as compelling. Antibalas doesn't just have the Afrobeat basics down—the exclamatory, jousting horns, the signature beats, the call and response vocals, the lyric trajectory—it also isn't afraid to take empathetic liberties with the style's codification. The result preserves Afrobeat's past glories while moving them forward.

It's a seamless affair, by no means episodic, but the album breaks down into three types of track. Extended lyrics are features of "Who Is This America Dem Speak Of Today?," "Big Man" and "Sister" (the shortest of these tracks lasts 07:55 minutes, the longest 19:14); horns and keyboards are the focus of "Pay Back Africa," "Indictment" and "Money Talks" (the bonus track), which between them include outstanding solos from Johnson, McLean, tenor saxophonist Stuart Bogie and baritone saxophonist Martin Perna; and on "Obanla'e" and "Elephant," percussionist Ernesto Abreu takes over lead vocals, weaving traditional Yoruba chants into Antibalas' 21st century mix.

In Lagos, Seun and Femi Kuti are moving things forward; in Brooklyn, Antibalas and Akoya Afrobeat are doing the same; Chicago, with Chicago Afrobeat Project, and London, with Soothsayers, when it's not in roots reggae mode, are not far behind; many other cities worldwide have emergent Afrobeat scenes. Fela! is being staged on Broadway and at London's Royal National Theatre. Things are looking good.

Source: allaboutjazz.com ... and THANX!!!

Feb 10, 2011

Aphrodesia: From the heart to the heart

"African music is the deepest music in the world. It's the foundation of all the other music I love - jazz, Cuban and Brazilian music, everything," enthuses Ezra Gale, bassist and co-founder of Bay Area Afrobeat juggernauts Aphrodesia. "I also love that it's such a part of life and it's inseparable from dancing. In our culture so much music is background. We're bombarded with it all the time to the point where we don't even notice it sometimes. And yet with so many West African rhythms and songs, there are specific times of the day and uses for them, and specific dances that go with them. It's connected to people's lives in a way that I think we could learn from here in the U.S."

Backing his words up with action, Aphrodesia embarks on a month-long tour of Ghana in early February. Their heady, body rockin' interpretation of African music mixes in gutsy '70s funk with contemporary African currents like Konono No. 1 and Tinariwen for a full-throated, pleasantly glazed onslaught that recalls both the JB Horns and the legendary Etoile de Dakar. Located on Africa's Gold Coast along the Western shore, Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence in 1957.

"The rich cultural diversity all over Africa is mind blowing," states lead singer and co-founder Lara Maykovich. "I remember at the end of my year traveling, hitchhiking through Mozambique, thinking that even if I took ten more years I would still only know a small part of Africa. I really loved Ghana because I felt so welcome there, and the people were just amazing and so open. Ghana got their independence pretty early on so there are not the same tensions that still taint some of the other African countries. The Ghanaians really feel that they are free, and this allows them to keep their hearts open. Ghana houses over 65 tribes, each with their own language and music and drum forms, so it is incredibly diverse within itself. Ghana also really supports the traditional arts and strives to keep them alive and to share them with others."

Things begin at home with a raucous kickoff party/benefit at SF's Xeno Drome on Saturday, January 28th. Besides Aphrodesia, performers include Eric McFadden, Sila, Soulsalaam, DJ Vinnie Esparza, and DJ Oaty Love. There'll also be Ghanaian and Brazilian drumming, ladies' veggie oil wrestling (seriously), and a kissing booth (yes, seriously). The performers are playing for free, and all the proceeds raised will go to support the tour.

Though many shows are likely to happen through word-of-mouth at makeshift music halls all over the country, Aphrodesia does know how the trip will begin.

"The first show we play there will be the Bob Marley Africa Unite Festival (which also features Stephen and Ziggy Marley, Culture, and Morgan Heritage) for probably the biggest crowd we've ever seen in our lives - of probably almost all Africans. So yeah, it's going to be interesting to see people's reactions to us to say the least," Gale states. "I think there will be a huge curiosity factor for sure, since we'll be white people playing African music in Africa. After that, we have no idea - they might love us, they might throw things at us. But in a way, we're going specifically to get our asses kicked. I want someone to come up to me and say 'No no no, that is not the way you play that. Let me show you how you play that.' I think putting yourself through something really demanding always makes you better in the end, as a person and as a musician, and I'm overjoyed that we're going to have that experience as a band."


The oil wrestling at the benefit isn't entirely random. Aphrodesia uses a biodiesel tour bus and plans to use one while in Ghana. Guitarist David Sartore, who Gale describes as their "veggie oil mechanic/guru/evangelist guy," explains, "For the last two years, we've been touring in a bus that runs on biodiesel and recycled vegetable oil because we want to demonstrate an alternative to our country's dependence on petroleum as a transportation fuel. When we decided to tour West Africa, it seemed natural that we would at least try to do this there as well because the environmental and political effects of the oil industry in West Africa have been devastating. However, there is not really the infrastructure for biodiesel in Africa that there is here, so we might be lucky to get 50 gallons of biodiesel on this trip. We really don't know, but we are going to work with the Ghanaian Commission of Energy and the Department of the Environment on education. We will have a demonstration kit on how to make biodiesel and its effects on the environment at each show. Our representative from the Clean Fuel Caravan, Zach Carson, will be demonstrating this aspect."

Most Americans still think of Africa as "the dark continent" and treat it with fear. It's almost universally seen as a dangerous place, but that view comes mostly from an ignorant picture of Africa gleaned from old Tarzan movies and shock-obsessed news coverage.

"All I know is the people who have said to us recently, 'Be careful over there,' are white, and the people who have said, 'Oh, Ghana is a nice place. Nigeria is a nice place. You're going to have a great time,' are African," remarks Gale. "In the end, we will see for ourselves if many Americans' images of how dangerous Africa is are overrated or accurate. But we prefer to see for ourselves and not to let fear and misconception keep us under our bedcovers the rest of our lives."

Maykovich continues, "I don't really allow fear much input in my decisions. I think there are still a lot of misconceptions about Africa stemming from colonial mentalities. I lived in Africa for a year, and it was one of the most incredibly heart-opening times of my life. I find the concept of having and thus needing to protect what you have very draining. The African people were the most generous, open people I have ever met, and because they had so little, they were free to have so much love and presence. They had themselves, rather than a small part of themselves weighted under mountains of possessions and responsibilities."

Anyone who attended last year's High Sierra Music Festival can attest to the sparks between Aphrodesia and Ghana's African Showboyz. Wandering by their shared campsite at all hours of the day, one was swept up by their combustible energy. The Showboyz will be playing the whole month of shows in Ghana with Aphrodesia, and they couldn't be more excited about it.

"The Showboyz are kind and amazing artists," comments Sartore. "I got to spend time with the leader of the group, Napolean, in his house in Ghana. He takes care of his whole extended family by traveling the world and playing music. They're definitely struggling, but his strength is amazing. He is intent on keeping roots music alive and thriving. In West Africa, live music is dying. It's not what I expected before I went there, but we hope this tour wakes up some of those roots that have been under the ground for the past decade."

"I'm excited about completing the circle of the Afrobeat legacy," continues Sartore. "It started in West Africa and has taken root in the U.S. and in Europe over the past ten years pretty strongly. Now, we're honored to take it back there and to show the people how it has influenced our music. I'm also excited about confronting and breaking down some race and cultural issues. We don't even need to talk about this stuff. The language of music spells it out clearly. There is no 'us' and 'them.'"

In no small way, Aphrodesia travels to Ghana as musical ambassadors – showing Africans that all Americans aren't the mindless, imperialist blobs that television and presidential politics make us out to be.

"Music is the one thing in the world besides food that literally every human being on the planet has a relationship with. Even if you've taken a vow of silence and live in a cave, I guarantee you're hearing music in your head," enthuses Gale. "So yes, I see us as ambassadors because every culture has music, and people have more of a familiarity and a bond with music and musicians than they do with politicians or tourists or soldiers. I think America has a very complicated image and history in West Africa. Many people want to move here to have a better life economically. Yet, I'm sure we're also seen as materialistic by many people, and I'm sure our politics and our wars and our history of racial inequality are not popular with many people over there. So who knows - if people over there meet these white Americans who have taken the time to learn their music and to travel to their country, maybe it will put a more human face on all of us. Or not."

Maykovich is a bit brighter in her assessment, "I am really proud to be finally returning to Ghana. I feel it is the full circle of a 12-year cycle from when I first started performing African music, to going there and learning an incredible catalogue of music and dance, from creating a most interesting collage from my own resources and finally collaborating with Aphrodesia to make an even more unique music that certainly has some roots in Ghanaian music. I will be happy to give back something to a culture that I received so much from, and I'm also very interested to see the Ghanaians' humor and excitement in receiving this reflection from us."

She continues, "Africa holds a cauldron of ancient forms of magic and ritual that make it a supernatural place where the interaction with spirits and forces of nature are almost commonplace. In that way, African spirituality is so close to the earth that it feels as if you just might brush by a ghost in the marketplace. It is a very wild place. In African music, it is the fundamental rhythms, the most basic building blocks of music, that remind the listener that he or she is really a part of the musical experience. The music holds so much vitality and energy that listening, dancing, and participating really become a transformational experience. African music comes straight from the heart to the heart and thus creates a community experience for everyone."

jambase.com, written by Dennis Cook

Feb 9, 2011

Orlando Julius and Afrobeat revisited

It was one of those unexplainable impulses that made me linger longer than planned at an Ikoyi hangout for all shades and ages of creative people.

In walked Basil Okafor, graphic artist/journalist, culture connoisseur and activist and, of course, we had to shoot the breeze and reminisce. He was happy that he had caught the musical act at the Lagos Black Heritage Festival that featured heavyweights Hugh Masekela, Orlando Julius, and Femi Kuti.

I chipped in that Masekela omitted the very important name of Peter King when he announced at the concert that Nigeria had produced two world-class musicians in Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Orlando Julius. Incredibly, a few seconds after, in walks Orlando Julius himself with his extraordinarily-talented dancer/singer African-American wife, Latoya Aduke.

Naturally, we all went through a session of oohs and aahs at this unplanned reunion. I told Orlando that I assumed he was still in Ghana, where he had relocated to years after we had met in Lagos after his second long sojourn in America. He surprised me by informing me that he had been back in Nigeria for over two years, in Osogbo, where he had set-up a sound and visual studio and was running a television programme featuring musical acts. It made sense in that in the 80s when we had re-established contact, he proudly told me that he had graduated from a filmmaking course in Berkeley, California, after a music-and-further-education trip to America.

Who created Afrobeat?

I asked Orlando about some of his key band members who had helped create his unique and pioneering sound of Afro-Soul-Beat as from the late 60s. He sadly informed me that my favourites like drummer, Moses Akanbi, and baritone saxophonist, Big Joe, were dead. Of course, this was depressing news. In a brilliant and soothing public relations gesture, his wife then offered me a new CD release of Orlando Julius’ compilation of master compositions and old hits, ‘Orlando Julius and his Afro Sounders: Orlando’s Afro Ideas 1969-72’. In many ways, this CD is a fitting tribute to these great musicians and concrete documentary evidence on how what is now defined as Afrobeat developed in Nigeria.

I have deliberately refused, since the 70s, to be drawn into the simplistic argument of who created and, is therefore, the father of Afrobeat. It is a spurious argument, much like asking who created Jazz; whilst unquestionably accepting that Jazz is Black/African-American music. In the same vein, Afrobeat is Nigerian-created music, period!

Yes, it is an offshoot and extension of the West African popular music Highlife, but it was made and shaped in Nigeria. Interestingly, Afrobeat’s different versions and flavours were created by well-schooled and experienced Nigerian musicians, which explains why like Jazz, Reggae, Rhythm & Blues, Soul, and now Rap and Hip-Hop, it is a distinct and universally accepted form of popular music.

It is safe, sensible, and factually logical to state that Afrobeat and its various flavours were created by Nigerian musicians who were interested in expanding the tonal and rhythmic frontiers of Nigerian Highlife music. It must be accepted and recognised that Nigerian musicians, like Rex Lawson in particular, Celestine Ukwu, Victor Olaiya, Eddie Okonta, Bill Friday, and later Victor Uwaifo, had incorporated their ‘tribal’ musical elements to create a distinct Nigerian Highlife flavour; different from Ghanaian and Sierra Leone Highlife. It is from this distinct and unique Nigerian Highlife flavour that the various inflections of Afrobeat evolved through assimilation, experimentation, cross-fertilisation, and individual musical innovation.

Laying the foundations

It will be fair, on recorded evidence, to say that the trio of musicians who laid the basic foundations and charted the path of what is now broadly classified as Afrobeat music are Chris Ajilo, Orlando Julius Ekemode, and Fela Ransome-Kuti, in that chronological order.

Simplistically, they respectively explored, experimented, and emphasised the expansion of the horn-ensemble complexities, soul-and-Yoruba traditional rhythms-marriage and Jazz riffs compositional structure and multi-rhythms of Nigerian Highlife music to create their brands of Afrobeat music.

It is, however, both Orlando Julius and Fela Anikulapo Kuti who performed live for many decades, with many recorded samples of their music over these decades, that best give a history of the development and growth of Afrobeat music. In this respect, Orlando Julius’ ‘Afro Ideas 1969-72’ is an extremely important CD and musical document that illuminates the early history and foundation of Afrobeat music.

Jagua Nana

Orlando, unlike Fela, had gone through the mill in Nigerian popular music. He started off in the late 60s as a drummer and flautist, and then took lessons on the alto saxophone. He began working with Highlife bands in 1961, playing with the Flamingo Dandies, I.K. Dairo’s Blue Spots, and Eddie Okonta’s band. He formed his own band, The Modern Aces, in 1964.

In 1965, he released his debut single, ‘Jagua Nana’, on the Philips West Africa label. It was a big hit because it was new. Orlando described it as “modern Highlife,” and essentially it was Highlife in a fast tempo and infused with rhythmic arrangements borrowed from Black American Rhythm & Blues and Soul music.

OJ and the Modern Aces released the landmark long-playing album, Super Afro Soul, in 1966. This was the official recorded announcement of the arrival of Orlando Julius’ Afro music in Nigeria. It was innovative and fresh; giving hints of greater musical things to come from him!

With a band now called Afro Sounders, Orlando Julius set out to develop and distinctly establish his own brand of Afrobeat music. As composer, singer, electric organ player, and tenor saxophonist, he led a band that explored depths of rhythmic structures, a seamless blend of Yoruba/African rhythms and Black American R’n’B/Soul. With the fiery Moses Akanbi on drums playing mostly on the high-hat and snares, dexterous shekere rhythms, crisp clave beats, congas, and snappy guitar riffs (from his brother, Niyi), OJ created his rhythmic definition of Afro-beat. It is a skippy rhythm, with his peculiar horn arrangements as embellishments to create his Afrobeat sound.

OJ’s rhythms

‘Mura Sise’ and ‘New Apala Afro’ are classic examples of OJ’ rhythms and on other compositions like ‘Home Sweet Home’, ‘Esamei Sate’, ‘Alo Mi Alo’, ‘Ketekete Koro’ and ‘Igbehin Adara’, he sings in Yoruba urging self-empowerment, good morals, fair-play in polygamous homes, and keeping faith with culture. Then there are the instrumental Psychedelic Afro-Shop and a welcome song ‘James Brown Ride On’, both recorded in 1970.

Orlando Julius’ compositions ‘Asiko’ and ‘Going Back to My Roots’ became hits for Hugh Masekela and Lamont Dozier respectively, in America in the late 70s. In the early 80s, he released the LP Dance Afro-Beat in America.

It’s been four decades since ‘Jagua Nana’, and OJ and his Afrobeat are still alive and, as Monk will say, ‘rhythmning!’

written by Tam Fiofori

Feb 8, 2011

New Orlando Julius - Album by Voodoofunk

Original posted at Voodoofunk.blogspot.com


"Orlando Julius has been a well known name on the West African music scene all through the 1960s and 70s. His early work was recorded in the Philips studios under the strict supervision of their house producers who were putting an emphasis on a pleasant and swinging sound that was jugging along in a pleasant way, bridging big band highlife music with American soul.

In 1972 and 1973, Orlando Julius and his band The Afrosounders visited the legendary ARC Lagos studio of Ginger Baker and what OJ and the gang put to tape there was an entirely different beast: They recorded and album packed with unadulterated, funky Afrobeat of the heaviest caliber.

The soundtrack to the video above is a shortened version of "Aseni", recorded directly from my original vintage vinyl copy. Only a short edit of one out of six long and epic killer tunes which are all included on this record

For the first time, Orlando and the his band were able to really let loose and showcase their full power with an unfiltered impact. They laid down six epic tracks that from a Funk or Afrobeat perspective definitely count as Orlando's strongest work but it seemed that Philips were not too happy with this result. They completely botched the distribution of this record and while Orlando's earlier and later work has all been re-issued over the past years, sometimes multiple times and from various international labels, this, his best record has remained under the radar and virtually unknown to the worldwide community of African music lovers. This was until I was sitting in my friend Damian Iwuagwu's house in Lagos back in January of 2010, drinking a cold Star beer and enjoying the evening when he casually handed me this LP and asked "what about this one, I got this the other day and I don't think I've ever seen it before".

Now this record is re-released with its original artwork and extensive liner notes written by Orlando Julius himself, including loads of great vintage photographs.

Vinyl copies are being shipped to the retailers as I type this and the hard cover book bound CD version be sent out by the end of the month.


Words by Frank Gossner, Mr. Voodoofunk


When Nigerian afro beat comes to mind, the name that typically comes to mind is Fela Kuti. But for true enthusiasts of the genre, composer and band leader Orlando Julius is held in the same regard as his more famous colleague. By the mid-60s, Julius had already established himself as a bona fide star in Nigeria, becoming highly popular for his ability to marry traditional African rhythms with the bold arrangements and highly melodic sounds of American pop, soul, funk and R&B. Comes with a 11 X 11 inch booklet.

Orlando Julius and the Afro Sounders, recorded between 1970 and 1973 in Ginger Baker’s studio in Lagos, represents Julius working as a composer and producer with more creative freedom than his earlier recordings, recording 24 tracks with a close-knit group of musicians. The result is an album that stands as a testament to Julius’ genius, and one that sounds just as good as the day it was recorded. On this album, the audio is remastered from the original analog tapes!



1. Yio Si Da Miliki Beat
2. Afro Instrumental
3. Osika Ranti
4. Buje Buje
5. Aseni
6. Kete Kete Koro

... more information and reviews ASAP!

Aphrodesia - Frontlines


Afrobeat is one of my favorite musical styles. Highly danceable and politically charged, the genre possesses a rough-edged potency that's impossible to ignore. Still, I admit to being skeptical of Aphrodesia, an 11-piece Afrobeat group from San Francisco. It seemed unlikely that a mostly white, American act could tap into the polyrhythmic protest of vintage Afrobeat. To my surprise, they come pretty close.

Aphrodesia's latest, Frontlines, borrows the grinding pulse, gritty horns and spidery guitar licks of traditional Afrobeat for its own political agenda. Instead of protesting corrupt African regimes, they're bemoaning our own. Lyrically, the group focuses on protecting both the environment and the rights of people worldwide.

The band, which features ex-Burlingtonian David Sartore on guitar, is as tight as they come. Musically, they've got all the bases covered: buoyant low end, interlocking melodies and a percussion section that won't quit. Aphrodesia recently made history as the first American act to perform at the New Africa Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria, an indicator of their authenticity.

Vocalist Lara Maykovich is the band's energetic ringleader. The two years she spent living in Ghana and Zimbabwe in the late '90s likely affected her worldview, both musically and politically. "There's a war on drugs, a war on crime / A war on poverty, war all the time," she sings in the incendiary "Mr. President." "Well, I don't believe and I never did / My indoctrination as a kid," she continues, as blaring horns punctuate her melody.

"We Never Sleep" incorporates Cuban rhythms into a vibrant tune about a decidedly un-vibrant subject: death. "Snack Nation," finds Maykovich railing against consumer culture. The lyrics are decent, but her delivery -- a decidedly goofy half-rap -- leaves something to be desired.

The hypnotic ballad "Flat Tire" finds the singer on more familiar (and convincing) melodic territory. With its ringing, bell-like percussion and evocative bass line, the song shimmers like ocean waves reflecting sunlight. The disc wraps up with a modified version of Fela Kuti's "No Agreement." Featuring spoken-word samples of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the tune paints a chilling picture of governmental hubris. "Bring 'em on," taunts the Commander-in-Chief over a slinky beat. "No agreement today / No agreement tomorrow," is the band's defiant reply.

Aphrodesia uphold Afrobeat's musical and spiritual tenets without resorting to mimicry. By fusing its own observations and experiences with traditional motivations, the band makes a solid impact.



San Francisco's Aphrodesia Pick Up a Busload of Beats in Africa

We all know how great an Internet cafe is for travelers trying to make or change plans on the go. That was certainly the case last year for members of the band Aphrodesia -- without even using the Internet.

The San Francisco-based group was on a trip to Ghana, home to much of its musical influence and where singer Lara Maykovich had lived for a time a decade ago. Thanks to Maykovich's contacts, in part, the band was having some remarkable experiences, playing shows at local clubs and events, being feted by the women of a small village where the singer had lived. Bass player Ezra Gale and guitarist David Satori headed one day to check e-mail and were regretting that after coming all the way to Africa, they weren't going to be able to visit the home of another hero: Nigerian Afrobeat emperor Fela Kuti. Lagos, where the New Africa Shrine honoring the late icon is located, is not really close or convenient to Ghana.

But the Internet café supplied a fantastic resource about the shrine -- a notable Nigerian musician with some serious contacts. "We sat next to a guy named Orlando Julius in an Internet cafe, and David starting talking to him and said we wanted to go to the shrine in Lagos," Gale recounts. Julius, it turned out, knows Fela's son and musical heir Femi, as well as Fela's daughter Yeni. "And he said, 'I can call Yeni, who runs the shrine, and make sure she knows about you. You should call her tomorrow.' And we did, and she said, 'Sure, I know about you. Why don't you come out here and play on Saturday.'"

That invitation, though, was just the start. The group had no way to get to Lagos -- with two nations of relatively rough terrain lying between Ghana and Nigeria -- and no real clue how to go about getting there.

"There was a lot of soul-searching," Gale says. "As white musicians, we were told that this trip was like going to Mordor from 'Lord of the Rings' or something. But we decided, 'We're invited to play at the shrine, and we're going to go.' We found a bus and a bus driver to go, and at the last minute even lined up shows in Togo and Benin, the two tiny countries in between, and made it across the border."

For any setback along the way, something good seemed to happen instead. Two planned shows in Benin with the terrific Gangbe Brass Band got canceled, but an associate instead talked the band's way in as a last-minute addition to the bill of an outdoor festival that happened to be going on at the time. And they made it to the shrine, where they opened for a Femi Kuti show. The once-in-a-lifetime trip is at the core of Aphrodesia's new album, 'Lagos by Bus,' explicitly in such songs as 'Bus Driver' (which includes some audio samples recorded on the trip) and implicitly in the overall approach to the music, which sees the accomplished band galvanized into a sharp unit that has internalized the collective experience and transcended the Afrobeat models to become a truly distinctive ensemble.

"It was a really special experience," Gale says. "To be able to travel like that as musicians meant we were relating to people more than if we were tourists. We were accepted into places we would never have been otherwise. At one time, we went to the north of Ghana to the home village of a group called the African Showboyz that we had met, a tiny village. They slaughtered a couple of goats for us, we had to go greet the chief, and they invited musicians from the next village and played all night. We didn't know what to expect in terms of reaction. I remember talking before we left, whether people might be pissed off to see white Americans play the music there. We didn't know. But people were really flattered and touched that we put so much effort into it."

Even Maykovich, despite her time living for nine months in Ghana and three in Zimbabwe in 1996 and '97, was a little wary about the trip, for some reasons that proved justified. It's always hard traveling in group situations, she notes. And though she had the most knowledge of the territory, due to cultural conventions regarding gender, she was not allowed to take an outward leadership role and in public had to defer to the men in the band. But that didn't spoil some truly magical occurrences.

"It was really emotional for me," she says. "I had stayed in one village for seven months and made a real connection with the women there. They used to make me omelets and sing, and later I learned they were all sister-wives of this one man who had left them. So this community of women, seven wives and their kids, totally remembered me. When we arrived on this trip, they came out saying my name. One of their daughters had even been named for me!

"We had a wonderful experience." she added. "We ended up playing music in situations we never had dreamed of." In truth, Gale did dream of such a trip, if not the full adventure that it ended up being. He recalls, "That's one of the things from when the band started: I can remember the first time we played in the shack in my back yard saying, 'Wouldn't it be amazing if we could take this band to Ghana?' "

But at that point it was a long shot. The group started when Gale and Maykovich (who had been in Afro-Caribbean drum and dance ensembles before and after her Africa stay) met while playing in an Afro-Cuban band. "It was just a serendipitous thing," Gale says. "I was really getting into Afrobeat nonstop and realized that she had this incredible repertoire in her head of African songs."

After a year or so of fine-tuning the concept with various other musicians in Gale's shack -- hence the title of the group's first album, 'Shackrobeat' -- the project took shape. With Maya Dorn joining to share vocals, the band took on a distinctive, often playful sound. Gigs started to mount around the Bay Area in clubs and festivals, one of the latter in 2005 proving a big window to the future adventure when they performed on the same High Sierra Festival bill with the African Showboyz.

"We became friends with them, played music with them, cooked chicken," Gale says. "At one point they said, 'You've taken care of us in your country, you must come to our country.' It was very vague and sketchy, but I realized this was our chance. So we jumped on it and really worked hard in planning. Basically, we had two gigs that were actually supposed to happen before we left, neither of which actually happened. But in the month there we must have played 18 or 20 gigs. That's the way it worked. As soon as we hit the ground, everyone knew there was this band from America, and within days we were on morning TV, then on radio, everyone saying, 'You must come play my club.'' You have to be open, take whatever comes. The things that happened to us, we'll never forget any of it as long as we live."

The 'Lagos by Bus' album is a big part of that. "That was the idea," he says. "It's a mix of thing either written during the trip or after, with a little written before we played there."

But it is not merely a musical travelogue and certainly not a pale imitation of their African heroes. While there are parts that very much reflect the Fela Kuti influence in the baritone sax-anchored horn arrangements and insistently burbling rhythms, the experiences are filtered through a sensibility that is distinctly American and, within that, San Franciscan. The song 'Holy Ghost Invasion,' for example, uses proverbs ("All you have is all you need," "You don't have to suffer") taken from posters and street signs seen in Lagos but given a context that is very applicable to the band's home cultures. Gale sees personal and political relevance as essential to the music that inspires him.

"Afrobeat is a very conscious and political style of music, and the outspokenness and the message that's inherent in the music and lyrics of Fela Kuti speaks to a lot of people right now," he says.

"This is the traditional able to come alive," says Maykovich. "If you have studied the traditions, the function of the music is used in ritual and used to facilitate healing in a community. That is really alive in our music now. We need a lot! Hell yeah! We need it more than the Africans right now!"



There's no end of worthy targets on this Afrobeat assault. George W. Bush, pharmaceutical companies, and the just plain lazy all get a well-placed rhythmic kicking. And while it would be easy enough to bask in the long shadow of Fela Kuti, Aphrodesia drops in all manner of strange bits on the fringes. They've got Fela's full lung sing-a-long thing down but woven together with a '70s funk-soul thread reminiscent of Donny Hathaway, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Fred Wesley's Horny Horns. They also kick up dust similar to modern African artists like Tinariwen, showing this large group has their collective ear on the Serengeti's contemporary developments. So many politically charged bands end up teetering off their soapbox pretty quickly (I'm looking at you Spearhead). Not so with Aphrodesia, who jangle our bones and let the ideas seep into the bloodstream through active transport.



Aphrodesia, the Bay Area’s premier Afrobeat outfit, return with a fresh blast of Fela Kuti-inspired funk with their sophomore release, Frontlines. For those unfamiliar with the band, some have called them the Left Coast answer to Brooklyn’s own Antibalas. But while that’s high praise indeed, it doesn’t quite capture Aphrodesia’s unique sound, which owes as much to singer Lara Maykovich’s extensive studies in West Africa as it does to bassist Ezra Gale’s digging through old crates of African records. On Frontlines, the band is tighter and more polished than ever, with the rhythm section laying down a relentlessly percussive groove that Tony Allen himself would be proud of. The horn section, too, really comes into its own on this record, alternating between aggressive charts and gutbucket solos. Meanwhile, Maykovich puts across the always politically-charged lyrics with both sweetness and the occasional snarl. Standout cuts include “Progression/ Destruction,” “Mr. President” and a cover of Fela’s classic “No Agreement.”



1 Frontlines 6:31
2 Trouble 9:33
3 Mr. President 4:52
4 Rebel Motion 7:52
5 We Never Sleep 8:33
6 Snack Nation 5:56
7 Flat Tire 5:01
8 No Agreement/MLK 10:24

Feb 4, 2011

Afrobeat from Boston, US: The Brighton Beat

Yesterday I was contacted by Ryan Hinchey, the bassist of the The Brighton Beat.

Besides some greetings he asked me if it would be possible to post his band The Brighton Beat here. Yeah, of course, as you can see: already done!

In his own words:

"You can download our EP for free on our bandcamp site...www.thebrightonbeat.bandcamp.com.

Feel free to post the EP on your blog, giving away free downloads of it."



Yeah! The Brighton Beat, we are a conscious group of living organisms that make coherent sonic creations of a monotonous dance beat nature. Based in Boston and playing shows around the Northeast and NYC. Stay tuned for news and upcoming shows!

by The Brighton Beat

The Brighton Beat is...

Ryan Hinchey- bass
SammyWags- drums
Jon Bean - Tenor Sax
Patrick "Chazwick" Dalton - percussion
Ryan "6th Degree" Nava - shekere, guitar
Jason Moore - keyboards

Including but not limited to...

Mark Zaleski - alto sax
Brian Paulding - trombone
Aaron Hachen - sax
Seth Hachen - flute
Trevor Bernatchez - trumpet
Zach Kamins - keyboards
Cooper White - bari sax


1. Loose Cannon 05:59
2. Coney Island 06:19
3. Big Top 05:54

The album can be downloaded for free here:


Check it out!!!

Feb 2, 2011

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by allaboutjazz.com (Pt.XIV)

Source: allaboutjazz.com

Fela! Original Broadway Cast Recording

One of the several extraordinary things about the Broadway musical Fela! is not so much that approaching 400,000 people have seen the production since it opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theater in November 2009, but that the many friends and family of Fela Anikulapo Kuti who have attended the show are unanimous in their praise for it. For the producers of Fela! have achieved the seeming impossible: making a successful piece of mainstream entertainment out of the life and art of the most genuinely revolutionary musician of our times, without betraying either his principles or his legacy.

Fela!, which is still running on Broadway, has now also opened at the Royal National Theatre in London. Kuti's bandleader sons, Femi and Seun, both attended the London opening, as did Kuti's daughter Yeni, and friends and associates from London and Lagos. Once again, everyone was full of praise. The creative team behind the production—in particular director, choreographer and co-writer Bill T. Jones, designer Marina Draghici and music supervisors Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean—deserve all the credit they have been getting. So too does Kuti's longtime manager, Rikki Stein, who is as uncompromisingly protective of his friend's work and memory today as he was energetic in promoting his career during his lifetime.

Another extraordinary thing about Fela! is the quality of the music, which preserves the verisimilitude and spirit of Kuti's Afrobeat, while also taking the occasional, empathetic liberty with it. The soundtrack album,
Fela! Original Broadway Cast Recording, is not only a great memento of the stage show, it's also a great Afrobeat album, and is unhesitatingly commended to readers of Afrobeat Diaries. Much of the album's success is down to Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean, respectively trombonist and trumpeter with Brooklyn's now 10 years old Afrobeat band, Antibalas. Johnson and McLean, along with other members of Antibalas including tenor saxophonist Stuart Bogie—and the brilliant percussionist Yoshihiro Takemasa, from another Brooklyn band, Akoya Afrobeat—have recreated sections of Kuti classics such as "Everything Scatter," "Upside Down," "Expensive Shit," "Zombie," "Sorrow Tears And Blood" and "Coffin For Head Of State," among others, with vibrancy and insider conviction.

Sahr Ngaujah, the astonishing actor/singer who has starred in the Broadway production of Fela!, and is also appearing in some performances in London, doesn't look a lot like Kuti, nor sound exactly like him, but he is totally credible in the role. Also doing their characters justice are Lillias White, who sings and plays Kuti's mother, Funmilayo Anikulapo Kuti, and Saycon Sengbloh, who sings and plays the young American woman, Sandra Isidore, who did so much to radicalise Kuti in 1969 and the early 1970s. Isidore's rather moving reaction to seeing Sengbloh's portrayal of her is included in one of the YouTube clips below.

The London production of Fela! boasts another fine band, this one including ex-Egypt 80 keyboard player Dele Sosimi and Robin Hopcraft and Idris Rahman, respectively trumpeter and tenor saxophonist with the south London Afrobeat/roots reggae outfit, Soothsayers.

The only sad aspect of Fela! is that Kuti himself didn't live to see its extraordinary success, or the exponential growth in his own international stature. But that is all too often the way with genius, particularly radical genius: it takes time for mainstream society to start catching up with the artist. As these cycles sometimes go, Kuti hasn't had to wait that long. It's time to Felebrate.

1. Everything Scatter
2. BID (Breaking It Down)
3. Trouble Sleep
4. Teacher
5. Black President (scene)
6. Lover
7. Upside Down
8. Expensive Shit
9. ITT (International Thief Thief)
10. Kere Kay
11. Water No Get Enemy
12. Torture (scene)
13. Zombie
14. Trouble Sleep (reprise)
15. Na Poi
16. Sorrow Tears and Blood
17. Sorrow After Testimonials (scene/interlude)
18. Dance of the Orisas (Shakara)
19. Rain
20. Coffin for Head of State
21. Kere Kay (Act II)
22. Gentleman (bows)

Source: allaboutjazz.com ... and THANX!!!

Ghariokwu Lemi: The artist of Fela's covers


Lemi, also called the inventor of ‘Lagos Afro Pop Art’, was born in Lagos in 1955 and has always had a keen interest in art. He had no formal training, but his mother was artistic, as she used to weave and trace drawings, and his sister also used to draw, but never took it seriously.


Lemi says he used to paint Mickey and other cartoons when he was a kid and this shows in his style: a cross between illustration and cartoon, his album jackets displaying a diverse narrative pattern which actually tells the story about the social issues the lyrics of the songs approach. Lemi designed 26 album sleeves for Fela over 19 years. But how did he get to meet the king of Afrobeat?

In 1974, he became friends with Fela through an acquaintanceship with the journalist Babatunde Harrison, who has seen a drawing of Lemi’s in a bar they both used to go to. He asked Lemi to do a portrait of Fela and then gave it to him. The musician was impressed and tried to give Lemi money for it, but he refused it and instead got a pass for all of Fela’s shows.

This was the year of the naming of Kalakuta Republic, so Lemi started frequenting the place and assimilating the ideology, already having a Pan-Africanist mindframe: ‘I spent my life at the Shrine. I worked alone. I did my drawings there’, said Lemi. He was the YAP (Young African Pioneers) news editor, designing 2 cartoons a week (one colour, one black & white) depicting and criticizing what happened over the week, as the organization also used to make ‘subversive’ posters which were banned in 1977.



Ghariokwu Lemi, is a self taught Nigerian fine artist, graphic designer, Illustrator and songwriter, well known for his captivating and intricate record sleeves. He is best known for creating the cover art work for many of Fela Kuti's records. He has also designed the cover of Cassava Republic's republication of Fela: this Bitch of a Life - the authorised biography of Fela Kuti.

His work involves a variety of styles, often using vibrant colours and unique typefaces of his own design. Lemi has designed more than 2,000 album covers in the last 36 years, including covers for Bob Marley, E. T. Mensah, Osita Osadebe, Mandators, Orits Williki, Gilles Peterson, Sony Okosuns, Oliver De Coque, Miriam Makeba, Lucky Dube, Antibalas, Akoya Afrobeat, Dele Sosimi, Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem, 2face Idibia...etc.

You might say his art is rebellion, comical, political, even erotic but most of all he is a genius in pictorial narration. Observer Music Magazine (Guardian, UK) called him “King of Covers” in 2004.

Many of Ghariokwu's cover images echo and sometimes comment on the work and politics of the recordings that they accompany, serving a consciously integrated meta-textual function. Ghariokwu's approach to his work with Kuti involved listening to and digesting the music and then expressing his reaction in his paintings, design and comments which provide a high level of detail on the many album covers he delivered.

Lemi's relationship with Fela Kuti was very cordial. Fela gave Lemi total freedom with his work and thoughts to the level that he just did as he pleased, albeit responsibly, with how and what he wanted to express. Lemi had the rare privilege of putting his photograph and comments on some of the covers and was treated like a son, friend, adviser and comrade by the Afrobeat legend.

Ghariokwu's work has attracted much attention in the West and is the subject of various retrospective exhibitions. He is on Phaidon Press’ list of 100 emerging and influential graphic designers in the world. His painting Anoda Sistem, created in 2002, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA). He holds a dual lifetime membership of the museum.

Lemi Ghariokwu is surely one of Africa’s best-kept secrets. Art lovers who wanted to meet this amazing character travelled far and wide to meet him. Professor Wolfgang Bender from Mainz University, Germany was so intrigued with Ghariokwu’s style of art he created a Art Project/Thesis at the Institute for Ethnology and African Studies for his students.

In July 2003, he participated in "BLACK PRESIDENT: THE ART AND THE LEGACY OF FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI" in New York, contributing 13 pieces of work all originals. On this trip, the President of MTV, commissioned Ghariokwu to paint his first painting on American soil, “EVERYBODY’S GOTTA BE SOMEBODY” which then inspired film maker Aaron Koenigsberg to follow Ghariokwu around New York and document the trip.

Ghariokwu is constantly exhibiting and holding workshops around the globe: he sees the world as his oyster and aims to leave a lasting legacy in his own style of art.



An interview

Wow! Goddammit!" Fela Anikulapo Kuti was reported to have shouted when he first saw his work.This online interview was with the Nigerian artist and illustrator Lemi Ghariokwu most renowned for the album covers and sleeves designs especially for the music legend Fela Kuti.

That was awesome! I remember having a chat with you sometime in 2005 at the London Barbican during a Fela exhibition programme. You were quite peeved at that time that such a show could be organized without you being invited. Do you still feel that way ? And I am curious to learn how the organisers reacted.

Wow, the Barbican thing is gone into antiquity by now! Yes true, I was peeved then and my manager advised I withdraw my works from the Black President tour. The organizers didn‘t find it funny after I did and I had to face the backlash of my action for a while, you know. I learnt some lessons from that, surely.

Who and what would you consider the greatest influence to your life and art?

Everyday movement of people, contributions and impact of the works of great leaders of thoughts garnished with my own rationale greatly influence my life and Art. I was born with my Pan-African consciousness and it was fortuitous to get to learn about Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah and to meet Fela Kuti and work with him and get to meet and admire Peter Tosh. I have influences from all those mentioned and maybe Fela has inspired me more directly having had the great opportunity to have interacted with him one on one. As for influence, it doesn’t run too deep with me because I’m a resolute and always have my own way of life and strong views. People a lot of times tend to miscontrue what influence means. Been particular sometimes misleads. For example long before I started my art career, I loved and greatly admired the cover art of Roger Dean, a British artist who designed the logo and covers for YES, a rock group and OSIBISA, an African pop group. But to this day, I have never been influenced by my love and respect for Roger Dean’s cover art! Then listen to this. I remember seeing the cover of Parliament’s Funkadelia album in the early seventies and loving it and never got to know the artist’s name until about 30 years later. And interestingly some reviewers say my style seem similar. Is that what you call influence? I have actually answered your question first time, but it seem you want some juice!!! [laughs]

How separate are you from your art?

Separate just enough to keep my sanity, remain focused and not become bohemian! My art is my life and my life is my art. Yes my art expresses my life, dreams, hopes and aspirations or the very lack of it all.

How much have you learned from other artists?

I have learned a thing or two from other artists as much as to the degree of how I love their works. As you may know my style is eclectic. This is because I learnt from observations and never underwent formal training. I learnt my bits from here and there and added all that to my own originality.

What would you consider the biggest mistake you have ever made?

I don’t believe in biggest mistake or regret or any of that sort of thing. Life is a continuum and every mistake is a lesson learnt in life and I take all with an equal pinch of salt. I don’t acknowledge any regrets whatsoever.

What message are you trying to pass to people through your art?

My message is for everyone to discover their inherent qualities and harness whatever gifts and talents they have been endowed with. As for Africans, we need to rediscover our lost heritage and emancipate our selves from mental slavery, This is what I mean about self discovery and mental liberation.



Ghariokwu Lemi in Ghana

Album sleeve illustrator, Ghariokwu Lemi made a return to Ghana after 33yrs of his last visit with late Afro beat King Fela Anikulakpo Kuti in 1976. With his deft fingers, he singularly designed 26 cover sleeves out of Fela’s discography of about 70 records that were produced. To him that feat was his call to fame comfortably strapped to Fela’s progress, starting with the “alagbon close” album that was released in December 1974. At the time, he was only 18yrs and the love story between him and the man, whose name “Anikulakpo” means death in my pocket, begun.

"Those works specifically helped to brand Fela as a rebel, a rebel leader, a revolutionary, political activist, a humanitarian and otherwise,” Lemi said in his introductory remarks at the Alliance Francais Arts Exhibition Gallery in Accra to showcase his artworks as part of his world tour programme, the last place before making it to Accra was the in UK where he also exhibited at the Bass Festival 09 in June.

The exhibition in Accra was a prelude to an afrobeat musical concert dubbed “AFROBITTEN” organized under the auspices of the French Embassy in Ghana, which featured Wunmi(a former backup vocalist for Fela), Ayetoro Band (put together by Nigerian composer and also former pianist for Fela, Funsho Ogundipe) and Atongo Zimba(a Ghanaian musician who also spent 4yrs studying music in Fela’s shrine).
At the Arts exhibition gallery, Lemi was poised to share his experiences and interact with Ghanaians and expatriates who had come to admire his works and also to hear stories about Fela; a lecture he said he was ready to give for 5hrs running non-stop for anyone interested.

He also recollected how he became an instant star in Nigeria, “for the first time in Nigeria, after the press reviewed Fela’s music, they also reviewed the album cover and I became an instant star.”

Ghariokwu Lemi has a variegated style of painting; laying out a selection of his portfolio of designs in Accra, one would have easily suggested that those pieces of art works on display were done by different illustrators. Interestingly the 53yr old man started his profession as an album sleeve illustrator in 1973 by self-tuition, researching, asking questions, trying out new techniques and blueprints he encountered. He has been able to develop this eclectic style without attending any arts institution. Since then the humble and self-made man has gone on to design over 2000 album covers both in Nigeria and internationally till date.

Upon invitation by pidgin music rapper, Wanlov the Kobolor, Ghariokwu Lemi reappeared in Ghana with fond memories and feeling at home. Then living in New Jersey, Kobolor sought after Lemi’s services via email on completion of his afro-beat inspired debut album, Green Card, which tells the thoughts of an immigrant in the United States.

Indeed in 2007, after meeting up with Kobolor in New York at “Fela-bration”, the green card album sleeve illustration became the latest addition to his works for a Ghanaian musician after designing for the late King of Highlife E.T Mensah, Bunzu Soundz, and Hedzelo Sounds (in 1976 for the acclaimed Ghanaian music producer, Faisal Helwani, who passed away in 2008). Ghariokwu Lemi told the AficanCourier that he’s currently working on the album cover sleeve for Yabba Funk, another Ghanaian group based in the UK.

Before leaving Accra for lagos, Lemi did not hide his admiration and respect for Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah, whose Centenary celebration is currently underway.
“Kwame Nkrumah laid a strong foundation for Ghana and it can never be completely scattered, I hope all African leaders learn from this great man”, he said giving the assurance to return more often to interact with young people as an effort to exchange knowledge.

In praising the country, he began with an advise and a wish, “Ghana, keep on doing what you’re doing, you’re a beacon light in West Africa”, he said,” you’re a good example to follow, I wish my country Nigeria will follow, because positivity, genuine awareness, integrity and consciousness towards whatever we do is a very vital fibre for human production and development.



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