Mar 25, 2011

Afrobeat: Beyond Fela and After: "Nigerian Music: Crisis of Creativity or...?"

Afrobeat: Beyond Fela and After: "Nigerian Music: Crisis of Creativity or...?"

When I was first approached to write an article on Nigerian music for Muse Magazine, I accepted the invitation without hesitation. Truthfully, I was quite excited. Being an ethnomusicologist who had recently returned to Nigeria from the U.S. to do fieldwork in the area of popular music, the prospect of contributing—giving back, as it were, to the society which not only had spawned me, but which had now become the bedrock of my academic research was indeed delightful. Almost immediately, I started to think about a topic to write about. It did not take very long, however, for me to realize something that I had known for a long time; something I should have first considered before my initial gleeful acceptance of the invitation to write. My muse was long estranged.

Benumbed by the fear of that daunting realization: that I was going to fail to deliver, I relapsed into a state of crisis. My muse, you see, is highly unreliable. She disappears for stretches at once, and then, when least expected, reappears. Sometimes her reappearances are fleeting; a hint of an idea, a spark of creativity, followed by long periods of darkness. But at other times the visits are protracted and rapturous. I wished I was experiencing one of those longer reunions. Maybe I was. Slowly, but very clearly, revelation came. It occurred to me that my current creative crisis, the relationship between my capricious muse and I could be a metaphor for the state of affairs of Nigerian music.

Historically, Nigeria has produced some of the most exciting music to have emerged from the African continent and its far flung Diaspora. Most of these musical genres formed over time within the cauldron of crises, socio-cultural and political. Pre-independence, highlife emerged in Ghana, Nigeria, and other countries along the West African coast as the transethnic soundtrack to nationalism. Highlife’s brave brassy chorus line and sinuous guitar rhythms embodied the struggles of diverse ethnic groups to forge urban identities which registered, yet transcended the colonial affiliations of newly emerging polities. Its potpourri of local rhythms, melodies and polyglot palette consolidated emergent national identities.

The crises of the Nigerian Civil War contributed to the decline of highlife music in the West, simultaneously opening up space for the rise of juju music in this region. Championed by exponents such as I.K. Dairo, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade, juju music would achieve international success as a “world” music genre proffered to be in league with reggae. In Eastern Nigeria, the devastation of the War stripped most people of all means of livelihood. Musicians were not exempt. Shorn of all but the most portable, cheapest and easily accessible instrument of the highlife band, the guitar, highlife musicians in the East developed a guitar band variant of the genre. It is from this Eastern school that the memorable Sweet Mother, still the most well known popular song across Africa, emerged.

By far the most explosive musical genre to have come out of Africa so far is Afrobeat. Created by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Afrobeat’s staggered rhythms, boisterous horns, stark poetry and antiestablishment ideology gave voice to the teeming Nigerian grassroots, articulating their disenfranchisement with the postcolonial state. It is a testimony to Afrobeat’s universality that today, the genre can be heard live in the bars, café’s, clubs and concert venues of New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, etc.

The global flowering which Afrobeat has encountered since the death of Fela in 1997 seems to have eluded the genre’s country of origin. While bands like Antibalas, Akoya, Chicago Afrobeat Project, Aphrodesia, Fanga, Afrobeat Academy and Albino continue to spring up all across the U.S and Europe, only a few stalwarts—the Kuti siblings: Femi and Seun; Dede, for example, have been able to successfully carry on the tradition in Nigeria. To be sure, there are other Nigerian Afrobeat ambassadors, but most of these musicians have had to relocate to Europe and America where their roles in the perpetuation of Afrobeat music continues to be significant. What could be responsible for the stagnation of the Afrobeat tradition in Nigeria? Where has the Nigerian muse gone, and should we be concerned?

Many reasons have been proffered for the crisis of creativity that we are currently experiencing, most of which center around the dearth of live music which the country experienced in the 90s. The economic decline that gripped the country during the military era resulted in a situation where only a very few could afford musical instruments. It also meant that for most people, budgetary decisions were reduced to the choice between a loaf of bread and live music patronage. Most people naturally chose the former. With poverty, the attendant problem of poor security kept most people indoors at night even when they could afford to spend some money at live music venues. The decreasing bar and club crowd was matched conversely by the church and mosque going demographic as Nigerians became increasingly religious, seeking spiritual succor from the economic hardships they were facing.

There are other factors unique to the retarded growth of Afrobeat in Nigeria. The fact of Fela’s larger than life imprint on the genre is of course an issue that cannot be overlooked. Most Nigerian musicians shy away from being identified as Afrobeat musicians because those whom have thus ventured have been shortchanged financially due to criticisms of either trying to copy the Chief Priest verbatim without displaying much of their own creativity, or, taking the genre too far away from its essential elements, distorting a musical style which many hold as somewhat sacred.

Although many would argue that Nigeria is not yet experiencing a true economic rebound—and perhaps this may be so—the live music scene is definitely experiencing a revival not unconnected to increased private investments and urban development. Several clubs, bars and restaurants have sprung up in Lagos, some of which are owned by foreigners whom as a result of the government’s economic reforms have been emboldened to make monetary investments in the country. However, with this influx of private investment, the country has also been opened up to a fresh bombardment of foreign musical culture. This influence is most significantly felt in the growing ascendency of hip hop music and the competition it is posing against the time tested Nigerian musical forms: highlife, juju, Afrobeat.

Of course, Nigeria is not new to the impact of foreign cultural influences. In the 60s and 70s, the nation, along with other West African countries was deeply influenced by the worldwide explosion of African American soul. During this time, several “copy cat” bands emerged whose sole repertoire consisted of covers of soul hits or local compositions which aped such hits. There is, however, a fundamental difference between the “copy cat” bands of the 60s and 70s and the current Nigerian hip-hopers, namely: medium of performance. While the “copy cat” bands were bands, playing live musical instruments, the deejay culture with its heavy reliance on electronic gadgetry appears antithetical to live music making. Ultimately, there are fewer “true” musicians, and musical development is stymied—(I once attended a hip-hop concert in which all the musicians lipsynced to their prerecorded tracks). On a more positive note, its is commendable that some Nigerian hip-hop musicians have been incorporating elements of Nigerian rhythm, melodies and languages into their music, carving a distinctly Nigerian hip-hop niche for themselves in the popular media. It may be argued, then, that the economical conservativeness of hip-hop music has provided an alternative outlet for a younger generation of Nigerian musicians whom have not been privileged to learn musical instruments. However, it is yet to see whether as it happened during the soul/funk era, a Nigerian musical form that is as unique and explosive as Afrobeat will emerge from our current musical experience.

It is yet too early to tell what the Nigerian muse of musical creativity is up to, whether what we are experiencing is really a crisis of creativity, or if there is some latent creativity in the cultural crisis we are currently experiencing. Has the Nigerian muse absconded, leaving musicians to their floundering antics? How long will she be gone, or, did she ever leave to start with? After all, some musical genres: fuji, apala, juju etc. continue to thrive in uncanny byways all across the country regardless of the superficial vagaries of the corporate music industry and the polity as a whole. Everyone knows that sometimes, the best places to eat aren’t posh restaurants but those lowly and obscure sheds far away from opulence. Perhaps similarly, the best places to hear the most contemporary African music are those byways where accomplished bards historicize through song and rhythm the current moods and experiences of the ordinary Nigerian. And because through all the political and economic turmoil that have befallen our nation these musicians were never silenced, it can be debated whether live music ever really died in Nigeria; whether our muse ever really left.

Article found at;

Originally published at

Mar 24, 2011

New sampler: Brand New Wayo - Funk, Fast Times & Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979-1983


Comb & Razor Sound launches its exploration of the colourful world of popular music from Nigeria, starting with the post-disco era of the late 1970s and early 80s.The years between 1979 and 1983 were Nigeria's Second Republic, when democracy finally returned after 23 years of uninterrupted military dictatorship. They were also the crest of Nigeria's oil boom, when surging crude prices made the country a land of plenty, prosperity and profligacy. The influx of petrodollars meant an expansion in industry, and the music industry in particular. Record companies upgraded their technology and cranked out a staggering level of output to an audience hungry for music to celebrate the country's prospective rise as global power of the future. While it was a boom time for a wide variety of popular music styles, the predominant commercial sound was a post-afrobeat, slickly modern dance groove that retrofitted the relentless four-on-the-floor bass beat of disco to a more laidback, upbeat-and-downbeat soul shuffle, mixing in jazz-funk, synthesizer pop and afro feeling. At the time, it was still mostly locally referred to as "disco", but has since been recognized as its own unique genre retrospectively dubbed "Nigerian Boogie". Brand New Wayo collects 15 pulsing Nigerian boogie tracks in a lovingly compiled package chronicling one of the most progressive and creative eras in the history of African popular music.


Every year at the WFMU record fair there's this guy who has the craziest Nigerian boogie and disco you've never heard of before. I love flipping through the selections, but the price tags make my wallet go limp. Thankfully there's this comp from Comb & Razor that focuses on those elite selections from 1979 - 83. It's was an incredible era of post-afrobeat fusion and experimentation where disco and synthesizers were getting in the mix with funk, soul and boogie vibes, all with a unique Nigerian twist. Brand New Wayo: Funk, Fast Times And Nigerian Boogie Badness collects these rarities for your listening and dancing pleasure with tracks from Dizzy K, Martha Ulaeto, Honey Machine, Mixed Grill, Bayo Damnazio, The Stormmers, Joe Maks, Segun Robert, Emma Baloka and much more. If you can't shell out $100's of bucks on an LP, do the damn thing and cop this comp! 15 tracks total spread over 2LPs. RECOMMENDED.


An interview with Uchenna Ikonne

Some music just exudes the energy, blood, sweat and tears of those who created it; You can feel them in it. This is the case with Brand New Wayo (Comb & Razor Sound), a new comp of the deepest funk, Nigerian boogie and raw synth badness compiled by Uchenna Ikonne (Comb & Razor blog). Uchenna is a one-man encyclopedia of Nigerian popular music and culture, and he was nice enough to share his story with us…

So, Uchenna, tell us about yourself. You grew up in Nigeria but now reside in Boston?

Yeah, I was actually born in the US in the 1970s, moved to Nigeria at the beginning of the eighties and then back to the States in the nineties. I spent most of the noughties in transit between the two places and now that we’re in the… uh, what do we call this new decade we just entered? The teens? Well, whatever… We’ll see where the next ten years finds me situated!

You’ve been writing the Comb & Razor blog since 2006. There’s some seriously crazy shit on there–amazing videos of live shows, photos, etc. Where do you find all this music? Are you in touch with any of the artists?

Thanks! I am a pathological packrat, so a lot of it is stuff I’ve picked up and held on to over the years. And since I started the blog I’ve put a lot of work into tracking down and befriending many of the original artists, who have been generous enough to share their memories—and memorabilia—with me.

“Brand New Wayo: Funk, Fast Times & Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979 – 1983″ is the first release on your Comb & Razor Sound label. What made you decide to make the leap from blog to full fledge label?

A commitment to a masochistic lifestyle perhaps? No, really… It just seemed like a natural progression. I had long expressed a certain sense of uneasiness with the kind of music blogging I was doing. I felt like it was little more than new wave bootlegging, but my readers would often reassure me that it was all fair game since the records I was posting were very rare and long out of print I might as well just share them online since it didn’t look like they would be coming back into print anytime soon, right? Or maybe I should just get them back in print myself so that they can generate some much-deserved income for the artists? Hmmmm…!

The music is pretty diverse–jazz-funk, synth pop, disco, etc—but it all fits in the genre known as “Nigerian Boogie”.

Yeah, you know we didn’t actually call it “Nigerian boogie” back then. “Boogie” is largely a retroactive genre that encapsulates a range of R&B-based, post-disco dance music. I believe the term first came into use among UK fans in the early 80s, after the rock fascists had symbolically demolished disco at Comiskey Park. They still wanted to dance to disco records, but conventional wisdom held that disco sucked, so they had to find a new codeword for the music they loved.

But the music we call “boogie” was really more than just the same old disco under a new name: there were changes that took place in the music. The tempo was dialed down a notch, and for the rhythm, rather than disco’s four-on-the-four, you got a one-and-two shuffle–which is why boogie’s also sometimes called “two-step” among older UK heads. And there was a lot more emphasis on musicianship and songcraft than you usually found in disco’s robotic servitude to the beat.

But yeah, “boogie” is everything from Vaughn Mason & Crew’s “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” to Newcleus’s “Jam On It” to parts of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Prince’s first two albums to just about everything that was released on Solar Records in the early eighties.

Solar Records, by the way, was huge in Nigeria… The label even had a branch in Lagos. All those acts from Solar and Salsoul Records—Shalamar, Skyy, Rafael Cameron, Lakeside—they all came and played in Nigeria to enthusiastic crowds. That boogie sound was just so big in Nigeria, and we had our own local version of it, incorporating more African and neo-African sounds like makossa, soukous, highlife and calypso… That’s what has since come to be known as “Nigerian boogie.” We still just called it disco, though.

Are these tracks largely pulled from singles or albums?

All from albums. Apart from the occasional 12-inch mix, the single format was pretty much completely pulled from the Nigerian market by 1978. I think that move actually contributed to the crisis in the music industry in the later eighties, just as the phasing out of the single has done in the US over the past decade or so.

What are your favorites from the comps? How about your favorite Nigerian artists? I LOVE that Dizzy K. Falola – Excuse Me Baby” cut…

Dizzy K. Falola was certainly one of my favorite artists growing up in the 1980s being that I was a super-zealous Michael Jackson fan and Dizzy K. was the greatest of our many local MJ imitators. Emma Baloka’s “Let’s Love Each Other” is a really nice heavy dance-funker, and “Boys and Girls” by Joe Moks is an infectious and eccentric synth-disco number that I think a lot of folks will dig.

I also really like “Pleasure” by Honey Machine and “Big Race” by Segun Robert. There are a lot of great artists and records from that period that I really love and but couldn’t make the compilation de to space constraints. But we’ll see what happens in volume two…

And on this side of the pond, what music are you digging here in the states?

Oh, a lot of stuff! I have to admit that most of the “new” releases I’ve been into lately have been reissues of some sort, like that Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends collection of Kris Kristofferson demos Light in the Attic put out. But in terms of actual new studio recordings, I really liked Cool Million’s Back For More… That was a really great boogie throwback album featuring some of the finest singers from that era like Me’lisa Morgan, Leroy Burgess and Eugene Wilde.

I’m also digging Debo Band, they’re a big band here in Boston, specializing in Ethiopian jazz. They’ve put out some singles but I’m really looking forward to a full-length album from them. And then there’s Mahon, which is a cool, coed electronic soul duo from London. I’m also into a lot of soulful house, like Blaze productions.

There’s a duo in Chicago called Windimoto who do stuff along those lines and I definitely recommend their last album Sinister Beauty. They recently released a remix album called Beauty Within, which is just… well, beautiful. I’m going to have to stop there, because when you ask me to talk about music, it’s hard to get me to shut up!

Lastly, are you going to continue writing the blog or focus more on physical releases?

Both… Though I intend to restructure the blog a little bit so I’m not giving away all the material I plan to reissue, you know?


A1. Mixed Grill - A Brand New Wayo
A2. Kris Okotie - Show Me Your Backside
A3. Murphy Williams - Get On Up
A4. Joe Moks - Boys and Girls
B1. Amas - Slow Down
B2. Oby Onyioha - I Want To Feel Your Love
B3. Dizzy K. Falola - Excuse Me Baby
B4. Chris Mba - Funky Situation
C1. Bayo Damazio - Listen to the Music
C2. Martha Ulaeto - Music Alone
C3. Segun Robert - Big Race
C4. Amel Addmore - Jane
D1. Honey Machine - Pleasure
D2. The Stormmers - Love or Money
D3. Emma Baloka - Let's Love Each Other

Mar 23, 2011

Orlando Julius and The Afro- Sounders


If you’re a Nigerian over the age of 25, then you probably know who Orlando Julius is. If you don’t, then your parents do. Orlando was and is a big deal in Nigeria and the neighboring countries. While his work is known to fellow West Africans, and diggers into West African music, he’s certainly not a household name globally. I’m glad to see his work get more spotlight. Frank Gossner of VoodooFunk fame is the brainchild behind this release. It’s the best Orlando Julius I’ve ever heard, and believe me, I’ve heard plenty. This was the music our parents played. Go pick this one up. The booklet, pictures and liner notes alone are worth it. Orlando himself wrote it. Forget the CD, get the LP for the full experience.

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


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.

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.

Traffic Entertainment Group, in partnership with Voodoo Funk, is proud to present Orlando Julius And The Afro Sounders in a new edition, with audio remastered from the original analog tapes and packaged in a hardback case book with extensive liner notes and vintage photography.


Frank Voodoo Funk is well known around digger circles for his deep crates, especially when it comes to rare African gems. This album from Orlando Juilius & The Afro Sounders is an excellent example of the high calibre recordings he's dealing with. This album was recorded back in 1973 and is impossible to find, even in Africa! Thankfully Voodoo Funk has lovingly reissued the LP from the only known remaining copy, that was found in an undisclosed location in South East Nigeria! The whole album is bursting with extra funky afro beat sounds from beginning to end. Drop the needle anywhere and be prepared to move to the lively groove. There are 6 tracks total, packaged with a booklet full of detailed liner notes and amazing vintage photographs. Recommended.


An uber-rare album from Orlando Julius & The Afro Sounders – recorded at Ginger Baker's studio in Lagos and originally (apparently quite scarcely) released by Philips in 1973 – wonderful stuff and on par with the excellent material the group recorded in the handful of previous years! The sound is terrific, still fresh and live sounding, but recorded with the best studio technology Julius had access to to date. The drums and percussion are prominent in the mix and so is the bass – with punchy, soulful brass, organs and passionate vocals. Wonderful! Tracks include "Yio Si Da Miliki Beat", "Afro Instrumental", "Osika Ranti", "Buje Buje", "Aseni" and "Kete Kete Koro". (CD version comes with a great hardcover book-like package that includes liner notes by Orlando Julius.)


01. Yio Si Da Miliki Beat
02. Afro Instrumental
03. Osika Ranti
04. Buje Buje
05. Aseni
06. Kete Kete Koro

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by (Pt.19)

by Chris May,


Part 19 - Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band: Live

Washington, DC-based Chopteeth isn't exactly an Afrobeat band, not all of the time anyway. Fela Kuti pieces figure in its set list, but so do "belle epoque" tunes from Guinea's Le Simandou De Beyla, Senegal's Orchestra Baobab, Congo's Tabu Ley Rochereau and other African stars of the period. Chopteeth is best described as a post-independence, African music repertory orchestra, in conception not unlike trumpeter Wynton Marsalis's Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra—the difference being that it plays music not native to most of its members' own culture.

And does it with flair and conviction. The band debuted on disc with Chopteeth (Grigri Discs, 2008). The new album captures it live in three DC clubs, with excellent sound and not too much crowd noise, and is even more enjoyable than the debut.

There are three Afrobeat covers: Fela Kuti's "J.J.D." from J.J.D. Johnny Just Drop (Afrodisia, 1977) and "Question Jam Answer" from Music Of Fela: Roforofo Fight (Jofabro, 1972), and Femi Kuti's "Traitors Of Africa" from Fight To Win (Fontana, 2001). Trumpeter Cheryl Terwilliger's horn charts stick close to the originals and are punched out with enthusiasm; the vocals on both Fela tunes are simple calls-and-responses, again sticking close to the originals (though ringing the occasional gender exchange); and the solos—from trombonist Craig Considine, trumpeter Justine Miller, saxophonists Trevor Specht and Mark Gilbert, guitarist Michael Shereikis, and keyboardist Jon Hoffschneider—are gutsy and in the groove.

The rest of the album is just as much fun. Baobab's "Jiin Ma Jiin Ma" and Beyla's "Festival" capture the lilting savannah swing of both outfits, with Shereikis and fellow guitarist Victor Crisen creating spirited pastiches of their signature guitarists. Nigerian saxophonist Peter King's "Freedom Dance" features more of Considine's gritty trombone, and Duke Ellington's "exotic" composition "Didjeridoo" has outstanding solos from Specht, on baritone, and Brian Simms, on greasy organ.

Only one track fails to convince: Rochereau's "Gagne Perdu" is let down by the vocals. But Rochereau, "the Voice of Lightness," is, anyway, a well nigh impossible act to follow.

The other nine tracks are certified winners.

Mar 15, 2011

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by (Pt.XVIII)

by Chris May,


Part 18 - Seun Kuti talks about From Africa With Fury: Rise

Seun Kuti's From Africa With Fury: Rise, the follow-up to the ferocious Many Things (Tot Au Tard, 2008), is under starter's orders—and Afrobeat Diaries' sneak preview attests that it's a monster, a stone delight of epic proportions.

Produced by Brian Eno with John Reynolds and Kuti, with additional input from dub wizard Godwin Logie, the new album features Fela Kuti's son once more fronting Egypt 80 under the leadership of veteran saxophonist Lekan Animashaun, its founding bandleader, whose time with Fela stretched back to the pioneering years of Afrika 70 and, before that, Koola Lobitos in the mid 1960s.

From Africa With Fury: Rise was originally slated for release on Knitting Factory Records in June 2011, but may now be brought forward to April. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, here are some of Seun's thoughts about the album.....

"I wanted to do something completely different," says Seun. "Not different by trying to be American or European with my sound, just trying to make a very different album from my last album. My last album, it was my first time in control, I was not as confident as in saying what I wanted. This time, I said, 'Okay, I can be more confident in how I express myself, I can say what I want, be as complex as I want.'"

Seun is effusive about his co-producers. "Brian Eno is 'Brian Eno' for a reason. He has a great mind when it comes to music. He adds new dimensions to the sound. He showed me new ways of opening up the sound I'd never have thought of on my own. Not to downplay the work of John Reynolds, who is an incredible producer. I'm really glad I had them work on the album."

Despite the studio craftsmanship, Seun sees the recording process as a means to an end, a way of capturing his music for posterity. "Afrobeat has to go from stage to studio, not studio to stage," he says. "I don't believe in going into the studio to write songs. You create music in the world, outside, in the environment. You create music with nature, not in the studio. You go to the studio to record, that's it. Music created in the studio is commercial music, music that only wants to sell, that has nothing to do with the world.

"What inspires me is the time that I live in," Seun says. "Basically what is happening today in Africa are the same things that were happening 40 years ago, when my father was songwriting, but they're happening in different ways. So when I write my music, it's from the perspective of a 27-year-old man living in 2011, instead of a 30-year-old man living in the 1970s."

Despite this, Seun finds himself having to challenge many of the same injustices Fela fought back in the day, from exploitative multi-nationals to militaristic kleptocrats to the futile war on drugs. Among the album's unequivocal battle cries is "Rise," in which Seun encourages listeners to fight "the petroleum companies" that "use our oil to destroy our land," "the diamond companies" that "use our brothers as slaves for the stone," and "companies like Monsanto and Halliburton" which "use their food to make my people hungry." But where Fela's work often featured an explicit call to revolution, Seun's goal is subtler. He sees his role as that of an educator, speaking truth to power in order to provoke debate.

"In Africa today, most people are struggling in silence," Seun says. "The systematic oppression of the people has made them blinded to their reality. Everybody's just thinking about survival. Nobody wants to stand up for anything, everybody just wants to tow the line. So I'm trying to make people think about these things that they are forgetting. I want to inspire people to want things to change.

"Music has great impact on people's feelings," Seun concludes. "That's what music should be. Pop music today is all about me, me, me. Nobody is singing about we. But nothing can change if we don't look out for our brothers and sisters."

From Africa With Fury: Rise will make history. Afrobeat's DNA is intact.

Mar 11, 2011

From Benin: Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou

Orchestra Super Borgou from Parakou was the most famous band in northern Benin during the 70s. Parakou is the largest city in eastern Benin and capital of the Borgou Department. Super Borgou recorded at least four EP's on Albarika Store label. This number 219 has apparently been recorded in 1973-74 since title "Dahomey Libéré" si already praising the Dahomey revolution of 1972.



As I have mentioned before in previous posts on music from Benin – or Dahomey as it was known back then – for such a small country, they sure did have a whole bunch of amazing singles from there. And if you have been following this site with any regularity, you probably are aware of the amazing releases on the Analog Africa label – especially the African Scream Contest compilation. Besides the incredible sounds contained on that disc, are the very informative interviews with all of the artists included – not to mention the great layout and design of the whole package. Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou were included on that compilation, and Samy Ben Redjeb interviewed lead guitarist Moussa Mama Djima

“The history of modern music in Parakou is directly connected to my father. In the 40s my dad traveled to Accra to become a goldsmith but he returned to the Borgou with something even more important – modern music. In Ghana my father fell in love with Highlife music and studied it intensively after work. When he arrived here he formed the first modern musical group of Northern Benin; it was called L’Orchestre Sinpam. When the adolescents of the region heard about it, many of them came to Parakou asking if they could get a musical education. So we had people staying here for few weeks, sometimes months, getting lessons from my dad, who was known in the area as “Mousse President”. Many of them returned to their villages to form their own bands. That’s how modern music started here in the Borgou. My older sister was the first of our family to take advantage of those classes. She learned how to play the flute and later became one of the most popular singers in northern Benin. Her name was Leha Nato. She was a rebel and the first woman in Parakou to wear trousers, and despite being a Moslem, my father encouraged this attitude. He wanted to modernize the behavior and the thinking of the people.

I was born in 1947; I don’t know the exact date but it was on a Friday, which is why people know me as Moussa “Djima” (Djima is Arabic for Friday). I grew up just watching all those musical things happening around me and I could literally feel music entering my soul. In my early teens, electric guitars started to appear in Parakou, especially during festivities: weddings, circumcision rituals, etc. The first guitarist to perform at our house was Waidy, my brother discovered him in Togo. He would entertain the folks for the whole period of Ramadan, Waidy would sleep end eat at our house, end I watched him practice every day. Then we found another guitarist in Ouidah named Aaron; he was cheaper. We did that for few years until around ’62-63. Throughout those years I never took lessons; I just watched those guys play and tried to copy them on a guitar I built using fishing line and some other tools. In ’63 for some reason we didn’t manage to find a musician to entertain the town, and Ramadan was approaching rapidly. The elders were panicking. I told them not to worry – I would play. They wondered, “When did you learn to play?”, “I will play!” I replied. On the first evening of Ramadan it happened. I performed using just two strings. The next morning people came to see my father to ask him if I was a genius or possessed by evil spirits. Soon youngsters started knocking on my door asking for guitar lessons. They would stay here for two, sometimes three months. We would discuss the price for accommodation, food and beverage. Most of my students used to pay with rice or meat; the ones who had money would pay 50.000 CFA for one month and 100.000 CFA for three months. That’s how I used to earn my living. My first band at that time was named Alafia Jazz. We covered Rumba songs by Franco – that’s where I got the artist name Mama Franco from. I changed the name of the band to OK Jazz later in ’64. A few years later we started to develop our own musical identity based on traditional rhythms and songs from the region. At some point I started thinking, We are the best band from northern Benin singing in Dindi and Bareba, but we have a Congolese name – not good! I decided to choose a name that would show our origins, so we renamed the band Super Borgou de Parakou. Ousman Amoussa handled backing vocal and gon, Sidi Alassane was on the toumba and kit drum, Sidi Seidou played traditional percussions, Soulaima Karim sang lead, Mama Biogado played the bass, Menou Roch was our rhythm guitarist and I was on lead guitar and vocals. We started touring Niger in ’69. We found a job at a bar called Congolaise; the owner was a former Guinean military man who disagreed with the politics of Sékou Touré and had fled the country with his Vietnamese wife. They were a very sweet couple, so we dedicated this song to them. All the money we managed to earn working in Niamey was invested into better equipment, amps, guitars and other stuff. One day I remember entering a music shop to buy a flute back in ’71 when I heard someone playing an instrument I had never even seen before. The sound was absolutely gorgeous. I asked the seller what kind of instrument that is, to which he replied, “It’s an organ“. I asked for the price. He told me 140.000 CFA. We had saved 300.000 CFA, so I bought that organ on the spot. That was on a Monday; by Saturday I played the whole set using it. It took me a day or two to understand it, but it wasn’t really a problem. On the third or so day I used our new acquisition to compose a hugely successful Afrobeat song called Da Doga Bouyo Inin Be. The first musical competition we did was in ’72 in Cotonou. At that time the government would choose one band from each state. Poly-Rythmo, Echos du Zou and many others were all competing. We won and consequently were invited to the International Music Festival in Berlin, Germany“.



7inch one

Side A: Mondia Binin Bakpe (Composed By - Moussa Mama)
Side B: Wegne'nda M'banda (Composed By - Djida Issa)

Released in Cotonou, Benin mid 70s. Exact release date unknown. Recorded at EMI Studios in Lagos, Nigeria.

Side A: Tekke, vocals in Dindi
Side B: Soul, vocals in Djerma-Haoussa


7inch two

Side A: Dahomey libere
Side B: Idrissou Kere Nam Ya


7inch three

(no cover)

Side A: Ya Bara
Side B: Soun Binin Sara

Released in Cotonou, Benin mid to late 70s. Exact release date unknown. Recorded at EMI Studios in Lagos, Nigeria.

Side A: Pop
Side B: Pachanga

Mar 10, 2011

Fela Kuti’s Mentor – Sandra Smith Isadore

Sandra Smith Isadore

I remember reading somewhere where Fela said the two most important influences in his life were his mama and Sandra Smith. She opened his mind and exposed him to new ideas, thoughts and music. I know many of y’all have never heard of Ms. Sandra. So I thought I would present her to you all with a few of Sandra and Fela’s words from Michael Veal’s book on Fela. I understand that the women in Fela’s group hated her and made her time on the road with Fela difficult. I guess she was more than a piece of tail and that did not sit well with them.

It is fascinating that I had never heard of Fela before I began associating with Naijas. I know 99 percent of AAs have never heard of him either. It is only the Pan African types and folks like me who know him by way of associations. Enjoy!

Words of Fela concerning Malcolm X:

“This book, I couldn’t put it down: The Autobiography of Malcolm X….This man was talking about the history of Africa, talking about the white man….I never read a book like that before in my life…..I said, ‘This man is a man!’ I wanted to be like Malcolm X….I was so unhappy that this man was killed. Everything about Africa started coming back to me.”

Words of Fela about Sandra Smith Isadore – his mentor. Fela said the two most important people in his life that influenced him the most were his mama and Sandra.

His words:

“Sandra gave me the education I wanted to know. She was the one who opened my eyes….For the first time I heard things I’d never heard before about Africa! Sandra was my adviser. She talked to me about politics, history. She taught me what she knew and what she knew was enough for me to start on.”

During the course of their relationship, Smith introduced Fela to a number of political and musical ideas that profoundly reshaped both his worldview and his musical approach. Through her, Fela became familiar with the political ideas and rhetoric of African-American political and cultural figures such as the Black Panthers, Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmicheal), Angela David, Martin Luther King, Elijah Muhammad, Jessie Jackson, and Malcom X.

Sandra Smith:

“At that point in my life, I was an extremely passionate person—especially when it came to blackness, Africa, and Malcolm X, things like that. But the Fela that I met was not into Africa as a concept at all. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that was something he was learning from me as we went along. It was like I was turning him on to Africa. Later he went to the other extreme, where everything about Africa was good, even the bad was good.”


“It’s crazy; in the States people think the black power movement drew inspiration from Africa. All these Americans come over here looking for awareness. They don’t realize they’re the one who’ve got it over there. Why, we were even ashamed to go around in national dress until we saw pictures of blacks wearing dashikis on 125th street.”

Through Sandra, the --- now renamed “Nigeria 70” – was finally able to secure a regular gig at a Hollywood club called Citadel d’Haiti. Although unknown, the Nigeria 70 quickly became popular and built a steady audience. Meanwhile, the influence of new ideas from Fela’s intense discussions with Sandra – combined with his continued desire for success—forced him to reexamine a number of his own fundamental ideas and ultimately to formulate a new conceptual framework encompassing music, culture, and ideology.

Fela words to Sandra:

“One day I sat down at the piano in Sandra’s house. I said to Sandra: ‘Do you know what? I’ve just been fooling around. I haven’t been playing African music. So now I want to try to write African music… for the first time.’ …I went to play this new number. I didn’t know how the crowd would take the sound, you know. I just started. The club owner was behind the bar and he almost jumped over it. ….’ Fela, where did you get this ****ing tune from? Whaaaaat!’ The whole club started jumping and everybody started dancing. I knew then I’d found the thing, man. To me, it was the first African tune I’d written ’til then.”

The new song, which he titled “My Lady’s Frustration,” was a homage to Sandra and an acknowledgment of the strain his career troubles placed on their relationship. My Lady’s Frustration is neither Fela’s old highlife-jazz or pure rhythm-and –blues. Rather it is a hybrid style in which elements from both genres are arranged in a mutually complimentary way.

Originally published in "Fela: The Life and Times of a Musical Icon" by Micheal Veal

Article published by

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by (Pt.XVII)

by Chris May,


Part 17 - Dele Sosimi: Identity

Keyboard player and singer Dele Sosimi, a member of Fela Kuti's Egypt 80 from 1979-86 and Femi Kuti's Positive Force from 1986-94, returned to London, where he was born in 1963, in 1995. A decade and a half later, he leads three bands in the city: the acoustic Afrobeat Trio with bassist Femi Elias and drummer Kunle Olofinjana, the Gbedu septet (which adds horns to the trio's lineup), and the 10-15 piece Afrobeat Orchestra (more horns, guitars and backing vocalists). Since autumn 2010, Sosimi has acted as music consultant to the London production of the Broadway musical Fela!, of whose stage band he is a key member. Sosimi also organises London's bi-monthly Afrobeat Vibration all-nighters, which present the Orchestra, guest musicians and Afrobeat DJs, and works as an educator with the Afrobeat Foundation, which he founded.

Along with Afrika 70's drummer, the now Paris-based Tony Allen, with whom Sosimi has regularly performed, and Fela Kuti's sons Femi and Seun, Sosimi has worked tirelessly to nurture and develop Afrobeat. As the fliers for Afrobeat Vibration events have it: "Afrobeat is more than a music. It's a movement." This column officially declares Sosimi a Hero of Afrobeat.

Sosimi has made two albums with the Afrobeat Orchestra: Turbulent Times (Eko Records, 2002)—reviewed in Part 16 of Afrobeat Diaries—and Identity. Both are outstanding, rooted in Fela Kuti's original blueprint but not constrained by it, and both deserve far wider currency than they have enjoyed so far.

Turbulent Times was a mostly instrumental disc which featured Sosimi's jazz chops along with those of horn players Byron Wallen (trumpet, flugelhorn), Justin Thurgur (trombone), Linus Bewley (tenor saxophone) and Tony Kofi (baritone saxophone). On Identity, Sosimi's keyboards share the spotlight with his vocals, while the arrangements continue to enrich the basic Afrobeat paradigm with infusions of jazz, Latin, traces of highlife, and funk (given the prominence of Elias' serpentine electric bass, more Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band than James Brown's Famous Flames, an early inspiration of Fela Kuti and with whom, of course, Collins played before going solo). Sosimi's horn arrangements, intricate yet unfailingly visceral, which were such a delight on Turbulent Times, are here in all their glory again. Sosimi, Elias, Thurgur, guitarist Kunle Olasoju and saxophonists Eric Rohner (tenor) and Rob Leake (mainly baritone) are the chief soloists.

Sosimi's vocals, only briefly exercised on Turbulent Times, are a revelation, like Seun's possessing an enviable degree of Fela's authority; and the lyrics (most of the tunes were co-written with Elias) stay close to Afrobeat's tradition of social commentary, sung in a mixture of Yoruba, English and Broken English. Tempos and atmospheres are mostly up, and track playing times are mainly around 10 minutes. There are two instrumentals: the urgent "Ori Oka" and the pretty, Latinesque "I Don Waka" (at 4:48 the shortest track).

Following its run at London's National Theatre, Fela! moves to Sadler's Wells for a six week season in summer 2011. Sosimi will doubtless continue to drive the stage band. His third solo album is now long overdue, and it is to be hoped that the success of Fela! will assist its recording and release without too much further delay.

Mar 9, 2011

Brazilian Afrobeat: Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra

Information from their myspace page:

ABAYOMY is an Ioruba word that means "happy meeting", and we strongly believe there's no better expression to translate the essence of the ABAYOMY AFROBEAT ORCHESTRA. The group was created in the same day of Fela Kuti's birthday, especially for the first edition in Rio de Janeiro of the FELA DAY -- an international event that celebrates the birth of the Nigerian creator of Afrobeat. Due to the quality of the happy meeting with friends and admirers of Fela Kuti, the group felt the necessity to go on with the Orchestra, in order to take advantage of the presence of this musical legacy in the work of many Brazilian artists, which is, at the same time, rarely explored. The ABAYOMY ORCHESTRA is formed by 13 musicians that move Rio de Janeiro's scene and have, as a creative basis, different styles of music. Mônica Ávila (Alto Sax), Fábio Lima (Tenor Sax), Thiago Queiroz (Bariton Sax) Leandro Joaquim (Thrumpet), Marco Serragrande (Trombone), Donatinho (Keyboard), Gustavo Benjão (Guitar), Victor Gottardi (Guitar), Pedro Dantas (Bass), Alexandre Garnizé (Percussion), Cláudio Fantinato (Percussion), Rodrigo Larosa (Percussion), Thomas Harres (Drums) use their Brazilian references and geniality with bright musical sounds, pressed by the afrobeat strenght with hypnotic and infinite grooves. In the musical list, besides their own compositions and covers of afrobeat classics, there are versions for the songs of artists such as Jorge Benjor, Marku Ribas, Antonio Carlos & Jocafi, among others directly inspired by African rhythmic sources. The show is a rich walk among these strong sounds. In this walk, the audience as well as the musicians of the ABAYOMY AFROBEAT ORCHESTRA create, through the music, a way to carry all of them to Africa...


Mar 2, 2011

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by (Pt.XVI)

by Chris May,


Part 16 - Dele Sosimi: Turbulent Times

Whatever you may think of musicals, and most people either love them or hate them, the New York and London productions of Fela! are to be welcomed. Both have been distinguished as much by their house bands as by their leading actors and dancers, and, as a result, both have done Fela Kuti's legacy proud—confirming, if confirmation was needed, the Afrobeat originator's enduring power to connect.

That in itself is something to celebrate. And the shows have also boosted the profiles of the house bands themselves. The New York lineup is built around Brooklyn's decade-old Afrobeat ensemble, Antibalas—and has also included the outstanding percussionist Yoshiro Takemasa, from another fine Brooklyn group, Akoya Afrobeat—and in late 2010, Ropeadope reissued Antibalas' 2004 album, Who Is This America?. The show's London lineup includes ex-Egypt 80 keyboardist Dele Sosimi in a pivotal role (he's also music consultant to the production), and while we wait for the next Sosimi album, anyone who's yet to check out his 2002 own-name debut, the magnificent Turbulent Times, is in for a treat.

First, a little background. When he was only 16 years old, Sosimi joined Egypt 80, later becoming its music director. He was part of the band which produced the late masterpiece Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (Wrasse, 1986), produced by Wally Badarou, which successfully reimagined the role of keyboards in Afrobeat. Other important albums featuring Sosimi include I.T.T. (International Thief Thief) (1979), Authority Stealing (1980), Original Sufferhead (1982), Perambulator (1983) and Army Arrangement (1985). He was a member of Femi Kuti's Positive Force for over ten years, before moving to London in the mid-1990s.

The with-vocals but essentially instrumental Turbulent Times picks up where Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense left off, foregrounding keyboards still further, and to brilliant effect. The cracking ten-piece band, which includes some of London's top Afrobeat musicians along with some of its best jazz players, nails all the key Afrobeat essentials—vocal and instrumental call and response, rich horn arrangements, socio-political engagement, tenor guitar licks, signature rhythms—while also nudging them into then-new territory. Each of the six tunes serves as a platform for the band's soloists: trumpeter/flugelhornist Byron Wallen) (two solos), baritone saxophonist Tony Kofi (two), tenor saxophonist Linus Bewley (one), trombonist Justin Thurgur (also in the London Fela! lineup, one), guitarist Kunle Olasoju (one), bassist Femi Elias (one) and drummer Feyi Akinwunmi (one). Sosimi himself solos, in a winningly melodic, jazz-inflected style, on most tracks (and sings, briefly but convincingly, on four of them). The combination of a red hot band, inventive arrangements rooted in the tradition but of their own time, and singular soloists given their heads is simply outstanding.

Turbulent Times is a little masterpiece, and it deserves—and in the Fela! slipstream may actually receive—a lot more attention in 2011 than it got first time around. It's an album that should be in any serious Afrobeat collection.

Another Afrobeat crusader enjoying the spillage of limelight from Fela! is artist (and, back in the day, Young African Pioneer) Ghariokwu Lemi, who designed many of Afrika 70's most striking record sleeves. Given complete creative license by Kuti, Lemi's work did more than complement the music, becoming an Afrobeat phenomenon in itself. Top galleries around the world are now interested in showing Lemi's work and a book is in the offing. Turbulent Times features a Lemi front cover (as did Akoya's 2008 Afrobomb album, President Dey Pass). There's talk of Lemi designing the cover for Seun Kuti's next album, due later in 2011, and another for Chicago Afrobeat Project.

There are plenty of well-produced concert clips of Sosimi viewable on YouTube, but the shaky, low-fi footage below, shot at one of Sosimi's bimonthly Afrobeat Vibration nights—a highlight of the London Afrobeat scene—conveys the spirit of the music well.