Jan 31, 2013

Chicago Afrobeat Project - Nyash UP!

 In the 10 years since its birth from Chicago's underground art and loft party scene, Chicago Afrobeat Project has performed coast to coast at clubs and festivals across the United States.

2012 marks the release of "Nyash Up!" the band’s fourth official album project and its best sounding, best produced release so far. Over the years the group has defined and redefined their signature version of a
frobeat. Their latest work is reaching into new territories incorporating elements of hip-hop, orchestra-like musical arrangement, and exciting stylistic exploration touching on rock, jazz and funk. The 8-piece group is established as one of the top bands in the afrobeat world.

Afrobeat has succeeded in establishing itself as a wide reaching genre with groups all over the world performing their take on the music first pioneered by Fela Kuti. The success of the Broadway musical, Fela! (and its recent take to the road) has made afrobeat a widely-known sound. Elements of the music are pushing their way further into more diverse and mainstream outlets with a widening array of successful artists (including pop and major label groups) drawing influence from it.

Chicago Afrobeat Project has risen among afrobeat groups after emerging as one of the first nationally touring American bands to take the sound to the masses. Over the years the band has mastered a sound that successfully weaves the uniqueness of the Chicago music scene with a distinct western-influenced Nigerian style of music. In 2012, the group recently performed on stage with Seun Kuti (son of the late Fela Kuti), featured Sahr (the original actor portraying Fela in the Broadway musical) and members of the Brooklyn afrobeat Antibalas. and in the past with artists such as Bill Kreutzman of the Grateful Dead, Jeff Parker of Tortoise, Steve Kimmock, Paul Wertico, Howard Levy, and many others.

Chicago Afrobeat Project takes this immense momentum wherever they travel. The band's reputation as delivering a stellar live performance translates to group's new "Nyash Up!" album as well, with critics already clamoring that it's the groups best studio record to date.



The eight-member CAbP will be joined onstage by artist Kelli Becker, sharing their fiery, danceable afrobeat sound, a Nigerian-influenced blend of jazz and funk. During their DubuqueFest performance, expect to hear predominantly original music, along with songs from their new record, Nyash UP!  The band has released three previous albums: a self-titled album (2005), (A) Move to Silent Unrest (2007), and Off the Grid (2008).

Chicago Afrobeat Project guitarist David Glines says, “We have taken the approach of playing afrobeat versions of artists we admire on Nyash UP!  Every track on the new record is a cover – albeit a very open interpretation of the song.” Click here to listen to a track from the new album, a mash-up of “Just Like That” by Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, along with Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong.”

 Lyrics are penned by band member Squairblaq, with some phrases in pidgin English or the African language of Yoruba. “All of our lyrics reflect issues that matter to us,” says Glines. “It’s impossible to write any other way. Squair is responsible for most of the lyrics on our new record, and in one track especially he points out some of the difficulties the middle class is experiencing in America. On another we draw attention to the injustice of war and those fighting on the frontlines. The genre itself is steeped in a tradition of political and social commentary, and we are extending that tradition.”

Chicago Afrobeat Project creates music as a collaborative team effort. Glines says, “More often than not, we begin writing collectively with one person beginning a line, then another, and another… until finally we’ve settled into the basics of a groove. We usually record this composition during a session or two, and then follow it up with one or two people working independently on the song to add new parts and possibly rearrange the song. Every now and again we have someone bring a completely written song to the band, but it is more of a collaborative process than anything.”
“I believe this process is one of the things that has kept us going for nearly 10 years – everyone contributes. Everyone has skin in the game so to speak. All of us have formal training in music at some point in our careers. Some studied music at college, and all of us have been performing on the scene for such a long time that the learning comes through experience. And we’re of course all still learning.”



Afrobeat gets a new voice on "Nyash UP!" as Chicago Afrobeat Project reinterprets the music of Radiohead, Fela Kuti, Fugazi, Ceu, System of a Down, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, 808 State, Talking Heads, and the Vandermark 5.

Layers of rhythms and melodies interlock on each musical piece, swirling the group's signature sound into an even deeper, funky afrobeat stew. Hip-hop, jazz and near symphonic influences are prominent on "Nyash Up!" but the album's afrobeat sentiment is center stage. Nearly half the tracks feature vocals -- an addition from previous studio releases. From commentary about the war on the middle class to an exploration into the meaning of freedom, the album's vibe twists and turns as much as a Fela Kuti horn solo.



  1. I Just Might Be Wrong Like That (Radiohead / Fela Kuti)
  2. Slippery People (Talking Heads)
  3. Pacific (808 State)
  4. Other Cuts (Vandermark 5)
  5. B.Y.O.B. (System of a Down)
  6. Roda (Ceu)
  7. Colonial Waiting Room Mentality (Fugazi / Fela Kuti)
  8. Inner City Blues Makes Ya Wanna Holler (Marvin Gaye)
  9. DazeD & Confused (Led Zeppelin)

Jan 30, 2013



We had met them together - Brian Eno, Jon Hassell and David Byrne. The strange alliance of the artistic avant-garde, the cerebral rock'n'roll of the '70s and unstable, nervous post-punk. Jon Hassell, forty-year-old visionary composer. Eno, thirty-two years old, acrobat of sound and of futuristic wild imaginings. David Byrne, twenty-eight years old, anxious and disturbing singer of Talking Heads. They sought a fusion between the breaths of Africa and electronic technology, between Telluric rhythms and the power of amplifiers, between improvisation and discipline. Their research flattered our desire for encounter and eclecticism. It married the energy of the primitive and the futurists' collages and mixtures, violating the avant-garde and channelling Africa. The whole world was in it.

In October 1980, David Byrne and Eno were to leave together for Nigeria.

One year later, here they are. Their trajectories diverge. Jon Hassell maintains his distance and pursues a meticulous hermit's work. David Byrne, produces the new B-52s' album, goes slumming by way of the avant-garde and still hasn't been to Africa. Only Eno has been to the black continent: he recorded an Afrorock group in Accra, Ghana.

At the end of 1980, a Ghanian producer by chance falls upon the twelfth issue of Actuel magazine where Eno explained his African obsessions. He takes Eno on his word and invites him to record an album with his best group, Edikanfo. That hit the mark. Eno had been researching Africa for a few weeks. He was hesitating between the large cities, Fela's Nigeria, Zaire - which had reigned over African music for a long time - or inventive but sleepy Cameroon...

July 1981, Eno arrives in Ghana, in the heart of Anglophone Africa, the country which, in the 40s, gave birth to the first African form of modern music, "high-life", a mixture of jazz, rhumba and tribal drums.

Faycal Helawi, the producer, is sitting in his padded armchair and, with a voluptuous pout, swallows a lychee. He has a bit of a Nero-like aspect to him - plump, sensual and worrisome. Ten young dogs always trail behind him. They thunder and fight and, occasionally, Faycal shouts Kill, kill at them. Aside from this, he's a charming man.

This thirty-five year old Lebanese has always lived in Accra and thinks of himself as African. But he still has a taste for great Arab cuisine - stuffed zucchinis, grilled lamb and Chinese fruits for dessert. The Lebanese control trade and import-export throughout western Africa. So I have a little fun when he harangues me for over an hour regarding cultural plundering.

All the rhythms of funk come from here. Do you want proof?

He makes me listen to an old, green, labelless, nameless forty-five. An ultra-infectious funk starts up. These are Ghanaians! Since the '50s, hoards of researchers have come here with tape recorders. They've recorded everything for the big companies - Phonogram, Decca - by buying musicians for a mouthful of bread. That's how they've fattened themselves on our backs.

And Eno?

Faycal sighs and swallows another lychee.

I find that incredible. Mr Eno passes through here and everyone comes to get news about him. But Eno came to us to learn. He helped to record an album with one of my groups in my studio, nothing more.

Didn't he play himself?

Not much. From time to time he would strap on a guitar to support the rhythm section.

He didn't come just for that.

No. He helped us to explore the possibilities of the recording studio. He is a first-class engineer. All the musicians will tell you the same thing.

He's a musician too.

I'll tell you that we recorded a album of my group, Edikanfo.

Can we listen to it?

I hope you don't have a hidden tape recorder...

I am permitted listen to only one piece. It's near enough to Fela: a full orchestra that roars, frantic percussion, blasts of tearing trumpets.

Where is Eno in all of this?

Arrangements, echo and resonance effects. But listen a little to how rock is made here. Over the drums, one adds percussion. You hear the congas? How hard they strike? This is African rock. What a shame, we don't have the means to progress. The puppets, the stooges of the big companies who spend their time in costumes, under ventilators, invest only in disco music, funk, the commercial salads. The groups here have to recycle.

In Ghana, we don't even have a pressing-plant. We have to go to Nigeria. There, there are African companies. But you know Fela's history. One day he stole the account books at Decca and discovered that he had sold a hundred thousand LPs and that he had been robbed.

In 1972 Faycal launched the first club in Accra, the Napoleon. The youth of the city came in droves. Two years later, Faycal opened an eight-track studio, the first independent studio in Ghana. All the country's groups passed through his place. And the hour of triumph: Fela and his tribe came to record their album, Black President, in his studio.

Give me the means and you will see, an irritated Faycal says. There are many Ghanian groups waiting for only one thing: to use a modern studio. How do you capture twenty-five percussionists with an eight-track? Let us get used to the technology, then we'll make sparks!

Tzing! A clash of cymbals and a large man climbs on stage snapping his fingers. The whole orchestra bursts out laughing. This takes place at The Tank, one of the twenty live clubs in Accra. The large man breathes some over-shrill notes on a flute. He's the Ghanaian State Minister for Petrol.

As light as a young man, the minister jumps, howls Dad dad! Dad! and starts on a long tirade. The drum follows it, quiet, then more nervously. A guy in a fedora hat joins in on percussion. In the small room the crowd rises and starts elbowing one another. Compelled by the frenzy, I begin to beat on the bar. My short buddy and guide in crazy Accra offers me a small joint while he bursts out laughing.

The minister plays here every Sunday. Does Mitterrand do the same back home?

Half of the musicians form part of the group which recorded with Eno. This evening they will play jazz, they'll improvise; it's madness, fun. Tomorrow they'll play reggae or disco music in a club or a dance hall in the open air. Accra does not sleep after midnight. On a weekend, you can easily find about fifty places to have fun. That's without counting the crossroads and building yards where three congas can bring out a whole district. It is not Abidjan, nor Lagos, the large capitals of West Africa, but Accra that has its hot nights and its exhausted early mornings.

Osei Tutu, the trumpet player, tells me of the weeks spent with Eno.

Oooooh! We never worked so much! We were in the studio every day, in the morning and the afternoon! He made each musician play solos and improvisations of percussion. And then he made us slow down the tempos, break up the rhythms, slow down some more. He tried to understand the rhythms but had trouble with this. After a week, he discovered ompe, the foundation beat...

Osei strikes a slow three part beat with his hands, accelerating slightly in the middle.

That's the rhythm which he liked the most. Tap! Tap! Tap! He listened to it for hours at a time. Tap! Tap! Tap!

Why that one?

I don't know. It's the simplest beat. Here, everyone knows it, it accompanies the love chants. Eno was thrown into a panic a little by the faster rhythms. He found them too African. Ompe, he called the open beat.
I think I understand. I imagine Eno breaking up the rhythms like an insane physicist breaking the core of an atom, to unearth quarks and gluons, the particles essential to all combinations.

It is stronger than him: it's necessary that Eno putter about. In a African rhythm one cannot slip anything between ten tangled-up percussionists. The machine moves by its own will. Eno wants to enter at all costs. The open beat, finally, allows itself to be manipulated. Eno grafts an echo effect, an extra beat, a guitar riff, an unforeseen melody... Eno believes in the virtue of musical fission, the explosion of forms. To crack the rhythmic molecules and to generate a new chemistry.

He left satisfied. The Ghanian musicians lengthily questioned themselves. This idea of open rhythms - it kept playing on their minds. Will this seed grow? Everyone says that African music will break out in the Western world one day. It would be justice when one thinks about all that modern popular music owes Africa. But missing are the few nuances that will make it rock out of a closed universe. As did reggae, which learned how to use electronics.

New York, September 1981.

Hello, I would like to speak with Brian Eno
To whom? You're mistaken.

But no, he lived here last year... he left his telephone number?

No. Your buddy must be in hiding.

I call David Byrne. He doesn't have the number: I haven't seen Brian for months.

From Jon Hassell, same story: Eno is in one of his incommunicado phases. No more interviews, no more dispersion. It is like that each time he works on his music.

Too bad. It does not matter. I have the impression that for Eno, the African episode is closed. He played, he crafted bits of Africa in his American studio, then he made the great dive over there and now he's gone on to another thing. In a few years, perhaps the African itching will return to him. He'll think and invent new angles of attack.

Jan 21, 2013

Get it: Edikanfo - The Pace Setters

The inside gatefold of this album touts Edikanfo as "African Super Band". Combine that with a production credit to Brian Eno and hip Mingus/Dolphy-esque abstract art on the inside and there was no way I was passing this up. The Eno credit was surely to help sell albums in the US as the executive producer, Faisal Hewlani, is a giant of Ghanaian music with album credits stretching back to the 1960s. The band just sounds too tight for this to have been given serious "production" from a British minimalist/ambient musician... but what do I know. I just wouldn't be surprised if this collaboration was more to benefit Eno's musical experience and Edikanfo's distribution. Whatever the case, this record is really slamming, and frustratingly the only record by the band to make it to the West. Recorded at an equally famous Studio One based in Accra, Ghana, and located in a defunct nightclub called "The Napoleon Club", where many of Ghana's top highlife and afro-pop bands cut records through the 70s and early 80s. The recording has the quality of being just a couple pre-synth-takeover in afro-pop.  There is definite use, but not over-use of strange keyboard sounds.

The disc starts us off with a track written by the bass player, Gilbert Amartey, titled "Nka Bom"and has a real nice afro-disco feel to it.  There's something distinctly 80s sounding about this track but I can't place my finger on what it is.  The keyboarist Ishamael Odai really really surprised me with his very western/soul-styled playing on this track.  It's extremely understated (surrounded by pounding drums and disco hi-hats) and almost "gentle" but is extremely sophisticated.  The next track, "Something Lefeh-O" is the weakest track on the disc.  Going full-out disco in parts, the lyrics are just that sort of cliche "happy happy dance dance" style and the combination of the two just make for bad song writing.  Last on the A-side is "Gbenta", the most solid cut on the album.  Written by the sax player Paa Akrashie, it has a nice quick 6/8 feel with funky keys and bass.  Minimal vocals accompany the tune leaving most of the rhythm to be traversed by horns and soloists.  

The flip side gets us started with "Blinking Eye", a poppy disco-beat kind of track with all kinds of crazy little synth "pings" and lines. Again, the keyboardist Odai stands out taking a tasteful solo on the Rhodes (or a synth that sounds like a Rhodes as there's no Rhodes credit). "Moonlight Africa" takes us into funky-highlife territory after a somewhat cliche'd opening. This track falls a bit flat comparatively, but still has that infectious driving beat. Rounding out the album is "Daa Daa Edikanfo", a catchy tune written by trumpeter Osei Tutu. The use of some kind of snyth drum (or a live drum with some strange fx on it) is pretty funky but then annoying by the time the needle runs to the center.  For the most part,  a solid track (except for the trumpet wackery at the end).

This disc shouldn't be that expensive if you can find it, and if you like African music you should definitely grab it.



Talking Heads' Remain in Light (1980) had adapted and bent African pop music to its own ends, no doubt from the influence of lead man David Byrne and Brian Eno, who were discovering the music of Fela Kuti and the like. It wasn't too surprising then, that a year later Eno went to Ghana to produce an Afro-beat group called Edikanfo. Produce is definitely the term, not collaborate, because without Eno's name on the cover, you'd never know he had his hand in this one. Primarily, this is because Edikanfo were already a tight, accomplished band, and not, like a lot of groups that work with Eno, looking for "a new direction." If being on EG Records allowed Edikanfo to sell more records in the West, that was fine. Their music is upbeat, extended, horn- and organ-led jams, like the terrific "Nka Bom" and the funky "Blinking Eyes." Sadly, their one album is all that remains of them in the West. 



1. NKA Bom
2. Something Iefeh-O
3. Gbenta
4. Blinking Eyes
5. Moonlight Africa
6. Daa Daa Edikanfo

Jan 18, 2013

Get it: Assalam Aleikoum Africa Volume 1&2

Assalam Aleikoum Africa Volume 1 
(Progressive And Popular Music Of West Africa)

A double helping this time. These two volumes were compiled from singles originally released by the Société Ivoirienne du Disque (SID), a company founded in 1974, only two years before the release of these lp's. There's quite a bit of information on the back covers, so I'll concentrate on the music.

If you listen to these albums you won't be surprised when I tell you I prefer the second volume. It's not just because I am not looking for "songs ranging in influence from jazz styles ... to rock .. to the songwriting skills of rock's poets .. to soul, r&b and reggae". I got bored with that at about the same time when these lp's were released. It's also because the second volume has far more variation in styles than the first.

Having said this, I would like to add that there is plenty to enjoy on the first volume. I like the ballad by Guéhi Jean et les Super Banty's de L'Ouest, and I love the two songs by l'Ivoiro Star, especially the jumpy "Dogbo Zo N'Wene". "La Guerre Et La Paix Ne Sont Pas Pareilles" by Théodore Boumbhé is amusing rather than nice (although I like the guitar), but it helps if you don't listen to the French lyrics.

 The second volume gets off to a great start with a great track by Amadée Pierre and his Ivoiro Star. Amadée (who also featured on the Ivoire Retro lp I posted earlier) is one of those artists who has few weaker songs, and I will certainly post more of this Ivorian star in the future.
Besides artists from Ivory Coast the album contains four tracks by stars from other West African countries: Moussa Doumbia from Mali with his version of "Samba" titled "Yeye Mousso" (I love the shouted chorus), Guinean guitarist Kouyaté Sory (more of him coming up soon!), Nigerian butcher (I'm not kidding!) Yekini Aremu and his apala group (no match for the likes of Haruna Ishola...) and Guinean (?) singer Fanta Sakho.

The remaining tracks - all from Ivory Coast - are also very diverse: there is a great Ghanian style ballad and a contrasting track in an uptempo typical Ivorian beat, both by Bony Pascal & Les Cantadors de la Capitale and a track in lingala by Jean Raph et Les Zoulous, who have clearly listened to a wide range of Congolese bands. The last two tracks are traditionals taken from Bété folklore, - but also two very different songs.




01. Charles Atangana & Emitais Onguindo 
02. Francis Kingsley & Emitais Assalam Aleikoum Africa
03. Guehi Jean & Les Super Bantry's De L'Ouest Gnoza
04. Théodore Boumbhé La Guerre Et La Paix Ne Sont Pas Pareilles 
05. Francis Kingsley & Emitais Live In Peace 
06. Vincent N'Guini* & Afro-Train Ode To Hendrix 
07. Armand Pascal Lido & L'Ivoiro Star Dogbo Zo N'Wene     
08. Martial Droubly & L'Ivoiro Star You Dji N'Indje 
09. Albert Siassa Solitude 

Assalam Aleikoum Africa Volume 2 
(Progressive And Popular Music Of West Africa)


01. Amédée Pierre & L'Ivoiro Star Pakora Ibo
02. Moussa Doumbia Yeye Mousso
03. Bony Pascal & Les Cantadors De La Capitale Anouman Sandrofia
04. Jean Raph & Les Zoulous Yo O Tuli  
05. Bony Pascal & Les Cantadors De La Capitale Ahoun Foué
06. Kouyaté Sory* Ahissa
07. Yekini Aremu & Apala Group Asifatu Alayo     
08. Fanta Sakho Sita 
09. Touhourou Gnonon Gue
10. Folklore Féminin Bété Zawonon  

Jan 17, 2013

Femi Kuti speaks ...

At 50, Femi Kuti shows no signs of slowing down. The eldest son of Fela Kuti records and performs with unbridled passion, and continues to bring his brand of Afrobeat to the world.
As a staunch critic of corruption, he’s never one to bite his tongue. He speaks the truth and does so unrelentingly, much to the chagrin of the powers that be. I had an illuminating chat with him on a host of topics ranging from the international explosion of Afrobeat, to colonialism, to the current issues plaguing Nigeria today, to name a few, and he was very forthcoming and open throughout our chat.

TIA: As Fela's eldest son, you obviously grew up surrounded by music. At what age did you know that you wanted become a musician?

Femi: Early, around 6, 7 or 8.

TIA: You’re a multi-instrumentalist, what was the first instrument you picked up?

Femi: The trumpet.

TIA: How did that evolve into you playing other instruments like the saxophone, keyboard and everything else you play?

Femi: My father mostly used a saxophone, so I moved towards that as well. I moved to the piano because I wanted to enhance my creativity and my compositions; to gain more knowledge. I needed something to sustain the fast tempo of my music, sort of like an undercurrent. So I started to teach myself the piano and bring its effect into my music.

TIA: Afrobeat is absolutely huge right now. Did you ever envision it being the global phenomenon it is today?

Femi: Yes. I always knew it was very special. In Nigeria, we listened to everything from America – Michael Jackson and everything else - but nothing affected me like Afrobeat, and not just because it was my father’s music. I felt it had full meaning for someone like me. It was African music.

TIA: You’ve been a supporter of the Occupy Nigeria movement. What effect has the movement had on the country?

Femi: I don’t think it has achieved its goal, but it probably made the leaders more careful in their dealings with the people. They now know that there can be a revolution at any time. So they (leaders) are wary of the people. But it didn’t have the effect I would have loved because the subsidy was only partially removed. I think there are too many corrupt forces involved, so I don’t think there will be any real change. If there is any change, it will probably be something that is unexpected. Like in most struggles, the people that organize it compromise; the labor union can bring the whole country to a standstill. No other organization can really do that. Transportation, everything – they can stop everything. When they compromise, which they always do - for as long as I’ve known them, they’ve always compromised - and when they do, everything just falls out of place. So to that point, the effect all this has had so far is that the leaders know that the people are angry and that they need to be more careful. But they will just find another way to do what they always do.

TIA: I see.

Femi: Unfortunately for us here, people are very resilient. People just want to survive and be happy. Religion plays a very important role in that, so you have people who will say “God will provide, and everything will be ok” and they just moan and complain and blah, blah, blah, but that’s the extent of it. I don’t know how long we can go on like this. So it [Occupy Nigeria] has shown that people are angry and that an uprising is possible, but that hasn’t happened yet.

TIA: What’s the future of the movement?

Femi: Well, I don’t think it’s about a movement. It’s about the people of Nigeria. There is an obvious climate for change. People are very poor. In Lagos state, they have banned the use of okada [motorbike taxis], which is an important and affordable mode of transportation for a lot of people. Now, many cannot move about like usual. There are thousands of riders who can no longer feed their families. Crime has increased. Now the police are back on the streets. The hardship is unimaginable. I don’t even know how people are getting by these days. So I think we’re sitting on a time-bomb. I don’t think it’s going to be about Occupy Nigeria or anything like that. Somebody is going to be fed up and they will do something about it. Look at the Tunisian uprising; someone got upset and burned himself alive. That’s how the uprising started, and then it spread throughout the Arab world.

TIA: That’s right. It was a spontaneous thing initially.

Femi: We’ve been having clashes here though. It could be something like a policeman shooting a bus driver, and there will be a very serious riot in that area. There are ongoing gang wars and things like that. There is Boko Haram in the north. Everyone is so scared about which way the country is heading. Corruption is at its worst. So we really are sitting on a time-bomb here, and I don’t think Occupy Nigeria will be the main catalyst. It could be one of the many contributing forces to bring about an uprising, or sweeping change.

TIA: The title of your last album - Africa for Africa (Knitting Factory Records) - is self-explanatory. Nevertheless, can you tell us more about it?

Femi: As you said, the title is self-explanatory. The way I feel about the struggle and the way I see Africa, many of us don’t appreciate our history. For instance, when we look at 400+ years of the slave trade, we don’t look at it properly and ask the right questions. I think we take those 400+ years for granted, and unfortunately for us, there are no books in Africa that can tell us more of the facts of that era and what the African people went through. I’ll give you an example. If an African man, woman or child was caught 200km from the sea, chains were put on them. He or she was flogged, sometimes to the point of death. If they lived, they were dragged from there to the beach with no food or water. From there, they were taken to the other side of the world. Today we have electricity, we have cars – life is so different from 200 years ago, even just 100 years ago. So when we even talk about it, we talk about it with the frame of mind we have now. It’s difficult to really imagine what was going on in Africa; being intentionally deprived, the pain of the African people for 400 years. It took Europe centuries to even acknowledge that what they were doing was wrong. And this is a small slice of the history of the continent.

TIA: This is true.

Femi: So when you understand just this portion of our history, it’s not going to take 50 years for Africa to come out of this fresh. The corruption today is still part of the effects of colonialism. Part of how Europe and America have continued to dominate and put whoever they want in power, so they can take our resources at will. All they need is a corrupt leader who they will support. Europe and America have supported corrupt leaders all over Africa for a very long time. Leaders like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Lumumba in Congo and Sékou Touré in Guinea, for example, stood up to colonial powers, but they [the west] encouraged and supported bad governments for their own benefit. When there were good governments, they [the west] did everything they could to bring them down, from the assassination of Lumumba, to the toppling of Nkrumah, and the hard times Sékou Touré had in trying to govern. So even if they want to pretend that they are in favour of democratic government in Africa today, we shouldn’t forget their contribution to the downfall of Africa. The way Europe and America behave is very hypocritical. Their citizens might not know what they are doing in Africa, but Africans know the facts of what they have done in Africa.

TIA: The narrative usually given is that Democracy is the answer to Africa’s problems.

Femi: When we talk about democracy today, we forget that Africa was very democratic before the slave trade. Our chiefs and other local rulers were usually selected by the people. This was the system, so democracy is not a new concept to the African people. It’s in our genes, but Europe wants to pretend as if it’s just their way and they have the best solutions for the world to move forward. Africans need to understand this history. How do we understand this history? The people who have the means to get this message across to the people have to keep on doing it. We need to educate our people about ourselves. If it takes 100 years, then fine. We need to keep educating ourselves, and re-educating ourselves away from the European versions of our history. We need to continue the conversation amongst ourselves. I don’t just mean continental Africans, I mean all Africans. Marcus Garvey talked about it, so did Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. There are many others we don’t even know - past and present - who fought and are fighting to educate their children and teach them about themselves; making them aware of their history from a non-colonial mindset.

Considering the extended period of colonialism and imperialism, the change in mindset won’t happen overnight. It was such a long, devastating period in our lives. We’re not going to come out of it fine in 5 or 10 years. It will take time. So that’s what I mean by the title of my album Africa for Africa. I put that in the marketplace to have it in the consciousness of the people. 

TIA: It certainly got our attention.

Femi: If only 1 or 2 people get the gist of the album, and keep on talking about it, then great. If this generation doesn’t get it, then a new generation will come. Everyone is talking about Afrobeat today, and you asked earlier about it being so big today. When my father was fighting for justice in the 70s, nobody knew then that they would be playing it all over the world now, or that there would be a play about his life. If the Nigerian government doesn’t want to recognize him, then the world will recognize him. The people championing and recognizing him now are not from my father’s generation. The people who are now into the music and the message are up to 3 decades younger than me. They talk about my father and listen to the music every day. This wasn’t the case when he was even alive. When people are fighting for a just cause, nobody knows when the results will come, but the key thing is to keep on fighting. Don’t stop, continue to plant the seeds and hope for the best. I believe we are on the right track, but I don’t think I will see the change I envision in my lifetime, but that doesn’t matter. We need to keep on going.

To go back to colonialism, how we self-identify in terms of nationality was given to us by Europeans. The name Nigeria was given to us by a European, and so many of us cherish and idolize the name Nigeria, or any African country. Kwame Nkrumah had the vision to recognize that it was wrong to maintain a colonial name after independence and changed his country’s name from Gold Coast to Ghana. Sankara also recognized it. He changed the colonial name of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso. So you see, some African leaders had seen this and recognized that Africa is a colonial structure cut apart like a cake by Europeans to be exploited for their own benefit. France, Belgium, Holland, England, Portugal, everybody; they were all here. They were all a part of it. They need to keep on saying sorry to Africa every day. Not just once and that’s the end. They need to keep saying they are sorry. Until we all understand the gravity of what they have done to Africa, there will always be problems. So when I say Africa for Africa, in part I want to make sure this information doesn’t die. It must be told and retold. The Jews in Germany who survived the holocaust realized how important it was to tell their story. The Germans are still apologizing. Africans should tell their stories. No one else will.

TIA: Do you have a new album coming out?

Femi: Yes, hopefully in March or April of next year.

TIA: What’s the title of the album?

Femi: It’s titled No Place for My Dream.

TIA: One of the highlights at this year’s Felabration in Lagos was you sharing the stage with your younger brother Seun. Is there any possibility of both of you recording an album together in the future, or perhaps even going on tour one day?

Femi: I keep an open mind, but it’s not part of my plan. We’ve met on the road several times and played festivals and things like that. People have tried to put on big Afrobeat concerts, where it’s not just the Kuti family, but other bands as well. People have tried, but as you know, there is a big recession globally; so many people don’t have the money to see as many concerts these days. Everybody is suffering, but I keep an open mind for doing shows. An album, I don’t know. I’m so used to working on my own, but if someone wants me to do something on their album, fine – but it’s not part of my plan. If he [Seun] wants me to do something on his album, then of course! These are not no-go areas.

TIA: You’ve been playing this music for many years now, and I know you have children. Are your children musically inclined like you are?

Femi: My son is in college right now, and he’s studying classical music. I don’t think he will go through my route, because I’ve been very careful about ensuring he gets a wide and varied education if he wants to play music. My other children are very young, though they like to jump on stage with me. I don’t think their time is going to be like mine. If they want to play music, then it’s my duty as a father to give them all the weapons at my disposal. In the next 10 years, music will change, so it won’t be like my time. However, it will be important for them to know what classical music is about, what jazz music is about and so on; music that has been there for ages. They need to know about the blues. If they choose to explore music, I don’t think it will be hard for them because they have it in their genes, but I would like them to understand where everybody is coming from, where the world is at and where they want to take music in their own time. I don’t want them to be like my father, I don’t want them to be like me – of course they will have those traits – but they have to be more dynamic and do better than we have done. That is my wish for them. The father always wants the son to excel beyond him, to dominate his own generation. Should my children go that route, I feel they will succeed. They have the right character and mannerisms.

TIA: You’re now a judge on Nigerian Idol. How did that come about?

Femi: They asked me. It was very difficult to say yes initially, but I’m happy I did. It was hard to get it to work around my schedule. Sometimes I have to stop what I’m doing for them. I think it’s important for me because a lot of young people are going into the business looking to become stars. They need to understand that you need to play a musical instrument first. It’s not just about a great voice. You need to be able to write your own songs and study composition. There is so much in music. It’s like studying to be a doctor or a lawyer, but people think it’s easy and anyone can just become famous. If you want to be famous, it should be because you are doing a great job. You should want to play music. If you’re doing it the right way, you’ll understand that fame is secondary to playing music. You need to be studious. But many young people don’t understand how difficult it can be. You can go 10 years without a break. Are they ready for that? They could have all the talent in the world, and they still might not make it. There are thousands, maybe millions of talented musicians who love playing music that we will never hear. They [young hopefuls] need to understand that it’s not just about having the ability to perform live. There are many musicians who can play well live, but they just flop when they get in the studio. You need to be able to marry those two worlds. It’s a very challenging profession, not just fun and games; it’s work. Understanding this is the first step. If you become popular, you’ll probably find out that what you want isn’t popularity because it isn’t what you expected it to be. You probably only wanted to play music, but with popularity every aspect of your life is scrutinized.

TIA: In your downtime when you’re not touring or on the road, what do you listen to?

Femi: Nothing.

TIA: Nothing?

Femi: [laughs] I would love to go back and listen to my jazz albums again. I loved listening to Miles Davis and Dizzy. I hope I can do that before I die. For now, I just want to create my music. If I can do this for another 10 years, that would be great. One thing I didn’t want was to be influenced by what is going on around me musically. When I used to read about some musicians who would go through a hermit type of life just to find the purity in their music, I never thought I would do that, but I’ve done that now for the last 12 to 13 years. I haven’t listened to anybody; I’ve just kept on focusing on trying to develop my style and where I want to take my music. I’ll probably do this for another 10 years, and then just relax and listen to music. But sometimes I’m forced to listen to music whether I like it or not. Like if I’m at a wedding or a party, so I do know what is going on. And in Nigeria, music is everywhere so you cannot really hide and cut yourself off completely. I don’t really need to put on my stereo to know what’s going on, it’s all around me. I just need to create a space for myself. The purity of my music is very important to me.

TIA: The results certainly speak for themselves. Thank you for taking the time to speak with This is Africa.

Femi: A pleasure. Thank you very much.

Femi Kuti charges the crowd at #OccupyNigeria



Two Truths and a Lie... with Femi Kuti!

When I pitched the whole "Two Truths and a Lie" idea to the Noisey editors, they gave me one main piece of advice: "Be Funny!" At this point, I should've known I was fucked, since as a Jewish man the only thing I have in common with Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Mel Brooks, and Albert Einstein is that I'm slightly balding. But I digress. 

Recently, a publicist reached out to me to interview Femi Kuti. If you have't heard of Femi, maybe you've heard of his father, afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. If you haven't heard of Fela, maybe you've heard of Jay-Z and Will Smith, who recently put a little money on a little Broadway musical called Fela!

Femi is a blessed and cursed artist. He’s a fantastic musician forced to step outside the shadow of his legendary father (think Damian Marley, not Stephen). When journalists write about Femi, it goes without saying they compare him to his father—so I thought to myself, “It’s your first article for Noisey, play it safe” and ask him about growing up with Fela. Femi has tried to distinguish himself from Fela (ie. his songs are shorter, and his band is called Positive Force) but doesn’t hate him. This said, I thought if I needled him about coming up in his father's shadow I might get some good responses.

Prior to the interview, Femi gave me his responses. Remember, one is a lie:


When I called Femi he wasn't exactly in a playful mood. His tone was subdued and his answers were curt. He tells me his one year-old has cried all day like a “Mona Lisa.” This is going to be… interesting.

Noisey: So... do you hate your dad?

Femi Kuti: No! I never hated him. Angry, but never hated him. Hated him for things he did, but loved him like mad. When I revolted in Africa it’s a taboo, so everyone was like ‘This is the biggest mistake you’ve made.” Now, I am an inspiration for many young people to stand their grounds.

It’s interesting you say that because that must have been the situation last night with your 1-year old. She’s already standing her ground.

Yes. I couldn’t even practice. She’s been screaming. [Laughs] Maybe she just wanted to get her voice. “Aha!” The whole house is tired from her screaming.

She’s clearly going to be a singer; that’s her calling.

Looking at her from a distance, there were no tears. So I was like, maybe she’s practicing singing or showing us what she’s going to be doing in the future.

Why did you call your band Positive Force? It sounds like a clear reaction to your experiences with Fela.

Because I wanted people to know it was for good reasons that I left my father’s band, and because everyone was so much against me. ‘How dare you? How could you?’ It was like playing a game of chess because you know you have to make this move, but nobody can see where you’re going, and you’re hoping the next player will make the wrong move so you can kill the king. 

What was that period like with your father right afterwards?

It was tough. For five or six years we didn’t talk. I was very angry. I think he began to understand. He had made moves like that with his parents as well. He became very supportive.

In comparison to Fela, you shortened your songs. Is control a big thing for you?

First of all, I thought why would you want listen to the same song for 45 minutes. Why would you want to listen to so many people play solos that are not going to be better than Dizzy Gillespie or Coltrane. I now put myself on the critic side. If I hated the afrobeat, how could I get the people who don’t have that much time to catch them immediately?

I’ve always felt the afrobeat could stand out like any genre of music on the radio. I didn’t want to lose the essence of the afrobeat. My next album is very afrobeat and is very radio friendly. The album scares me because I don’t think I can ever do anything better.

You mean not being able to live up to what you’ve done in the past.

Yes. I know it’s going to be a great album. I don’t know if I want to go through that turmoil again.

That’s what having a kid will do to you.

Yes. Yes! I always put a composition like having a kid. It drains you completely.

Well at least you chose to have just one wife. If you chose to have 17 wives or 27 girlfriends, you’d have a whole other headache.

Well I did. I had about 20 girlfriends, but I’m not that bad these days. In Africa, if you have a lot of girlfriends it costs you a lot of money--just like anywhere else. I think I care too much about my daughter. There’s little time for womanizing. But of course, I like women.

Well I wouldn’t insinuate that you didn’t like women because that would be a whole other conversation.

Ha! Yes.

Jan 16, 2013

Afrofunk: Dikalo - African Sound (GET IT)

Ultra rare LP including, among others, three monster afro funk cuts : "Going to Afrika", “Fine Biscuits” with dope breaks, "I Know" and “Old Fisher Man” with wild wah wah and organ. Very obscure group from Cameroon featuring the great Eko Roosevelt ("Kilimandjaro My Home"). 


Eko Roosevelt was born Louis Roosevelt Eko on November 13, 1946 in Lobé-Kribi, Ocean Division, Cameroun. Fleurs Musicales du Cameroun writes, "Eko is a great pianist, an excellent organist, an accomplished guitarist and a firts-class conductor and musical arranger. And if that were not enough, he also sings."



A1 Kristo 3:32
A2 Fine Biscuits 2:48
A3 Equality 5:20
A4 Funky Family 3:56
B1 Old Fisher Man 4:20
B2 Going To Africa 3:23
B3 Why No Peace (Yo.Yo.Yo) 4:15
B4 Ye Bobe 3:30
B5 I Know 3:13

Jan 15, 2013

From Kenya: The Vikings

A must for afrobeat, afrojazz and afrogroove collectors ! Listen to "Kibe kibe", "Jambo jambo" (killer afro funk breaks) and above all "Mama matotoya" with a superb use of the flute, organ and afro chants. Wonderful sound from Mombassa, Kenya, but as these musicians were based in Switzerland at that time, they pressed their album in Switzerland. Rare !


A1  Polemusa 
A2  Mama Sofia 
A3  Jambo Jambo 
A4  Mama Matotoya 
A5  Ave Maria
A6  Harambee 
B1  Africa.  
B2  Malaika 
B3  Kenya.  
B4  Kibe Kibe 
B5  African Sunset

If someone has the album and would like to share it, please contact me ... I honestly would appreciate it!

Jan 11, 2013

From Senegal: Ouza & Teranga International Band - Wethe

1 - Bayina Music
2 - Wethe
3 - Sama Gueleme-Magana
4 - Dootou Mala Bayi
5 - Terango
6 - Senegal 80

Jan 10, 2013

KonKoma - KonKoma

Rooted in 1970s Ghana, KonKoma is the brainchild of saxophonist Max Grunhard and producer Ben Lamdin (Nostalgia 77).

The idea was to create a band around two highly esteemed Ghanaian musicians - Alfred Bannerman and Emmanuel Rentzos. Both are mercurial talents who over the years have graced the stage with the likes of Bobby Womack, Hugh Masakela and Peter Green as well as being long term members of the Afro-rock band Osibisa, but it wasn’t until KonKoma that the two old friends have had a band built around them.

The English-speaking West African country was the destination of Soundway’s acclaimed compilation series Ghana Soundz Afro-Beat, Funk And Fusion in 70’s Ghana. It has been a long held ambition for the label to work with a contemporary Ghanaian band who can push the country’s unique take on Afro-beat and highlife forward.

KonKoma adds a progressive edge to their rich blend of Afro-funk, jazz, soul and traditional African rhythms as well as acknowledging the 70s recordings that spawned the sound. Produced by Max Grunhard and Ben Lamdin, the album was recorded and mixed by Mike Pelanconi (aka Prince Fatty) in Brighton.

Guitarist Alfred Bannerman, founding member of teenage Afro-rock band Boombaya (featured on the Soundway compilation Ghana Special) has remained one of the mainstays of the UK’s African music scene for more than 20 years. Keyboardist Emmanuel Rentzos has been playing alongside his fellow Ghanaian since the early 1970s when he was the lead singer of the young Ghanaian outfit Santrofi’s band. Once Max and Ben had won the support of Alfred and Emmanuel, Ghanaian musicians and now key members of KonKoma, Nii Tagoe and Reginald ‘Jojo’ Yates came on board.


Ghanaians must feel left out when it comes to afrobeat. People often forget that Ghana, rather than Nigeria, is where it all started. This was the place traditional African rhythms first combined with European brass, an essential mould for the sound later popularised by Fela Kuti. It may have been given a different name – ‘highlife’ – but the roots of afrobeat are obvious. Loyal fans of Ghana’s musical history – as can be seen from their past compilations – Soundway Records are now proudly releasing the debut album by contemporary afro-funk outfit KonKoma.

“KonKoma is the name of a tribe in Northern Ghana”, says lead guitarist Alfred ‘Kari’ Bannerman. “They are very colourful and their rhythms are wonderful. The band is a rebirth of Ghanaian music from the 70s and 80s – it feels very authentic.”

Both Bannerman and keyboardist Emanuel Rentzos are living relics from that period. Bannerman played regularly with Pat Thomas, acknowledged by Ebo Taylor as one of highlife’s most important singers, while Emmanuel Rentzos exemplifies KonKoma’s American funk connection, boasting collaborations with Bobby Womack, Johnny Nash and Herbie Hancock. The superb funk/highlife instrumental ‘Accra Jump’ is an easy marriage of the two styles, showing a direction the two genres could have pursued if such collaborations had been commonplace back then.

Perhaps the most valuable Ghanaian characteristic displayed by KonKoma is impeccable timing, reflected in tracks like ‘Sibashaya Woza’ and ‘Kpanlogo’. The drumming in particular stands out as James Brown worthy. Amidst a rich crowd of horns, African and European drums, guitars and keyboards, everyone gets a fair slot. On ‘Handkerchief’, a xylophone-driven backbone is tweaked back and forth from prominence using 21st century sound engineering; guest mixer Mike Pelanconi (aka Prince Fatty), noted for his genre-spanning back catalogue, seems to be on the right wavelength. On the album, building a contemporary group around two legends has proven to be a wining structure, not just for KonKoma but for Ghanaian music as a whole.


70s West African funk reissues are such a heavy trend these days that it was inevitable living bands would start recreating the essential sounds of that easy-to-love, endlessly compelling era. And perhaps it was inevitable that the UK Soundway label would be involved, since it has released so many vintage titles from Nigeria and Ghana in recent years. Saxophonist Max Gruhard and producer Ben Lamdin (Nostalgia 77) spearheaded KonKoma, using longtime sidemen, and veterans of the legendary Ghanaian Afro-rock band Osibisa. Guitarist Alfred Bannerman and keyboardist Emmanuel Rentzos are central figures here, but to pull together this lush update of big-band Afro-funk took a host of singers, percussionists, guitarists and brass players. Together they recreate the sound and spirit of a bygone era that seems strangely relevant in the early 21st century.

Partly that’s because funk never dies. The squirrelly weave of guitars and percussion and blasts of brass on the opening track, “Lie Lie,” are pretty hard to resist. Reverential use of venerable organ sounds and guitar tones, enhanced by contemporary recording techniques, breathe life into a classic genre, rather than rendering it precious.  Working from a demo without full sleeve notes, I can’t tell you much about the origins of these 12 songs, but, whether they are remakes or new compositions, they amount to a vivid, fun-loving homage to the era that inspired them.

“Handkerchief” is spare, mostly bass and drums, with the sizzle of a Tony Allen afrobeat groove. A single voice, rough like Fela’s, takes the center, adorned by economical brass hits and processed thumb piano.  “Kpanlogo” has a bigger sound, a rolling clave-related groove not so far from Congolese soukous, overlaid with waves of brass and vocal driven by a spiky electric guitar riff to reach a dizzying crescendo. The instrumental “Accra Jump” delivers deep, slow funk with a bottomless pocket and a succession of quirky keyboard, twangy guitar, and fat brass breaks.  “Yoo Eh” brings a floating, dreamy mood with warm, ringing guitar arpeggios, loping bass and a crisp lead vocal, answered by an airy chorus.

The final two tracks features Reginald ‘Jojo’ Yates on the ancient Ashanti harp, the seprewa, and folksy vocals.  The tracks are sweet and unexpected, a classy finish for one of the funkiest releases you’ll hear all year.  Oh, to see this band live!



The strikingly clumsy cover (possibly designed by a 12-year-old boy with a rotring pen, a compass and a setsquare) is so amateurish that it just about tips over into being good, but it gives no indication of what the music therein might be like. So it came as something of a pleasant surprise that it was the most sophisticated, superbly played Afro-funk I’ve heard in the last year.

While Nigerian Afrobeat is arguably the main template for this London based Ghanaian band, the grooves are looser and more elastic than we are used to from that genre. There’s an agreeable amount of air flowing between the slivers of angular guitar, blasts of brass and intricate rush of percussion that delineates most of the tracks.

The relentlessness of pure Afrobeat can get a little wearing after a few 12-minute tracks, but because KonKoma have also subtly incorporated the influences of 1960s psychedelia and American blacksploitation-era soul there’s much more light and shade here. There’s also a real sense that the musicians are doing an awful lot of holding back, so that when the brass section does rear its head, the effect is dramatic and powerful. Producer Ben Kamdin has done an excellent job of both capturing the late 60s/early 70s vibe that’s clearly the main inspiration for these mostly veteran musicians, while also giving them a sound that's very much of the 21st century.

And just to show they have more than one trick up their sleeve, the album closes with the subtlest of ballads built around the dry, brittle sound of Jojo Yates’s gently plucked speprewa (Ghanaian harp). By contrast, Yates’s vocal soars with effortless grace. To end on such a quiet, intimate solo performance is an act of supreme confidence in keeping with the confidence displayed throughout.



The Sound Way label’s mission is to compile and release the best, most obscure and rarest of world music. After a decade of Panamanian, Columbian and most prominently, Ghanaian compilations, the label now boasts a contemporary reincarnation of 1970s Ghana in the form of KonKoma.

The idea originated with saxophonist Max Grunhard and producer Ben Lamdin deciding to create an Afro-funk outfit based around two prominent Ghanaian musicians; Alfred Bannerman and Emmanuel Rentzos, themselves both heavily featured in Sound Way’s retro compilations.

As an Afro-funk virgin I approached the record with cautious optimism and was not disappointed: most of the up-tempo tunes are impossible not to move to and rich in sax-led instrumentation, while many songs such as ‘Accra Jump’ having a distinctly New York jazz club feel.

Undoubtedly, KonKoma fulfills its role as an impressive tribute to the Ghanaian sound of the 70s, its authenticity stamped across it with the inclusion of Bannerman and Rentzos. For the many unaccustomed to Afro-funk the record serves to educate and inspire in the spirit of Sound Way’s original mission, doing so in a uniquely modern fashion.



Now operating out of London, and created to work around highly reknowned musicians, Alfred Bannerman and Emmanuel Rentzos, the Ghanaian inspired band piece together a glorious afro-funk rooted in the style of the 70s, offering a soulful and groovy output that should be sure to get many a folk dancing. The self-titled album is a lovely piece of work that displays their wide range of talent throughout. 

KonKoma starts with "Lie Lie", which is sure to have anyone who has heard it a couple of times, sing along to a language that will most likely be alien to them. The song is also a perfect way to open the record as it sets the pace for what is to follow. It's not a song that finds itself in the tradition of repetitive funk, in the vein of James Brown, but a song that shifts to sometimes seem almost like a completely different entity altogether. "Handkerchief" is a beautiful groove full of tribal percussions, that make you feel like you are headed straight for the Dark Continent. There are steel drums and other ethnic instruments; I do not have the knowledge to recognize. One nice addition is the effects you'd get in disco or Queen's Flash Gordon soundtrack, these could have been a downside of cheese but the quality of the music as a whole prevents the song from becoming tainted. "Kpanlogo" is most definitely one of the highlights on the record. It starts with some of the best guitar work to grace the world of funk. Enter the chanting and an awesome brass sections that give the track a Latin feel, yet it still remains deeply African in nature, showing the influence Africa had on the culture of Latin America, something that rarely gets the mention it deserves. With "Niebakwa", we have another sing along song, a slower paced rhythm that is a welcome break and allows the listener to sit back, and have a breather. "Me-Kyin-Kyin" is another standout track, simply because of its sheer funky grooves, created by an awesome bass line, coupled with some amazing and catchy singing. However, the true highlights of the album are the two final tracks, "Senture" and "Jojo's Song". These songs are purely beautiful, the guitar work is hypnotically majestic, and makes you want to sit in the sun and soak up its atmosphere, it makes you drift and long for peace. The vocals on "Jojo's Song" are dreamy and spine chillingly haunting, it is Africa in all its beauty.

KonKoma is definitely an album for anyone interest in funk or African music to try out. There isn't much in terms of diversity of sound, but there is diversity in style which prevents the record from becoming samey. The inclusion of female chanting to accompany the main vocals on many an occasion helps the album to come across as authentically tribal. There's everything you could hope for on here, beautiful vocals, sang in a beautiful exotic dialect, amazing guitar and bass work, an array of amazing percussions, all layered with brass sections and cool organ work. It truly is a work to check out.