May 25, 2012

Monophonics - In Your Brain

Psychedelic Soul, sometimes called Black Rock, is a sub-genre of Soul music, which mixes the characteristics of Soul with Psychedelic Rock. It came to prominence in the late 1960s and continued into the 1970s, playing a major role in the development of Soul and Funk music.

Over the past seven years, Monophonics have staked their claim as one of California’s premier bands. Raised amid the Bay Area’s rich musical culture, Monophonics has proudly carried on the tradition of music native to their hometown, which flourished during the birth of psychedelia.

Monophonics were formed in 2005; originally a instrumental ensemble comprised of guitarist Ian McDonald, bassist Myles O’Mahony, saxophonist Alex Baky, trumpeter Ryan Scott, and drummer Austin Bohlman, the band has recently added the dynamic soul vocals of keyboardist Kelly Finnigan. The result is a psychedelic soul & heavy funk sound, which harks back to the stylings of the late 60’s and early 70’s, all while keeping its feet planted in the present.

As a mainstay of San Francisco venues such as The Independent, Brick and Mortar & Boom Boom Room, the Monophonics have created a national buzz and fervent local following, sharing the stage & bill with such names as Budos Band, Orgone, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Kings Go Forth, Soulive and many many more. Their touring schedule has brought their signature rowdy, hard-hitting live set to over 400 dates from California up to Motown and down to Louisiana establishing themselves as yearly residents at the legendary New Orleans Jazz Festival. The band has also played some of the major music festivals on the west coast including High Sierra, Joshua Tree, Blacksheep Family Reunion, and Las Tortugas.

Already in 2012 the band has signed on with top booking agency Intrepid Artists Int’l and has seen their touring schedule triple fast and has helped get them get in big festivals like Wakarusa in Arkansas and the Portland Waterfront Blues Fest in Oregon. Other big news in 2012 is the bands new record “In Your Brain” which will be released and distributed worldwide May 15th by legendary label Ubiquity Records (ORGONE, Shawn Lee, Breakestra, Connie Price & The Keystones). It was recorded & produced by Ian McDonald and Kelly Finnigan in San Francisco and was mixed by Sergio Rios from ORGONE at Killion Sound in LA. With a transformation of the group in the last 18 months, they have matured and found our own sound. This new record sits on the fuzzy psychedelic side of Soul and Heavy Funk! Taking a cue from their San Francisco roots and greats like Norman Whitfield, George Clinton’s Funkadelic, David Axelrod and Sly Stone the group has found their path which has taken on a direction that focuses on great tones using analog equipment, a simpler and more spontaneous songwriting approach and trying to always catch a vibe that brings back thoughts of the 1969 psychedelic movement!

San Francisco, the end of the sixties. Peace and love on Haight / Ashbury; Santana and Sly & the Family Stone riding high in popularity. Heady times. San Fran’s Monophonics were all too young to be there at the time of course but the era has had a profound influence on them as has the music of the likes of Sly & The Family Stone, Norman Whitfield and Funkadelic.

With their third release,”In Your Brain”, heavy, chugging grooves laced with wah-wah, horns, spacey organ and psychedelic vocals are the order. It’s fuzzy, gritty and refreshingly different. Mixed by that other heavy cat, Sergio Rios from Orgone, it sounds suitably out there. It’s been a few years since I last visited San Fran but I’d like to think this would be a fitting soundtrack for the city’s hippest hangs.

One of the standout tracks here is “There’s A Riot Going On”. Perhaps this was intended to be the ‘missing’ track from Sly’s 1971 hit LP (it appears on the track listing at the end of side one, but is silent and clocks in at 0:00 running time. Sly never intended the track to be there of course, explaining that he “felt there should be no riots”). The Monophonics’ ‘version’ is a fitting imagination of what it might have sounded like, with socio-political lyrics fitting of both the times then and now.

“Deception” drops the tempo and stretches out nicely, while Fanny Franklin is the ideal choice of guest vocalist for the rousing “All Together”, her voice really effective against the undulating, heavy groove and Sly-ish background vocals. Also somewhat Sly-ish is, “Say You Love Me” featuring some nice sitar over a slow burning groove, singer Kelly Finnigan’s well suited vocal and gentle organ solo. “Foolish Love” is a stretched out groove that sounds like a Norman Whitfield production with its acid drenched funk. We also get two well chosen covers – Ike Turner’s “Thinking Black” fits right in with the template and packs a thrilling dance floor punch. For their excellent take on Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang”, the band produce a heavy arrangement that sounds great and sets it apart from the original.

“In Your Brain” effectively and authentically delivers a solid psychedelic soul funk experience. It’s a fine tribute to their influences while coming across as firmly their own sound. More power to Monophonics.


01. Looking Ahead
02. There's A Riot Going On
03. In Your Brain
04. Sure Is Funky
05. Deception
06. All Together
07. Say You Love Me
08. They Don't Understand
09. Mirage
10. Foolish Love
11. Thinking Black
12. Bang Bang
13. Temptation
14. Keep Looking Ahead

May 15, 2012

South African Jazz: Batsumi

Matsuli Music continues its reissue program of rare indigenous afro-jazz sounds from South Africa with the release of Sowetan group Batsumi's self-titled debut from 1974. The reissue has been lovingly re-mastered from the original tapes and features material compiled on the recent Next Stop Soweto series from Strut.

The album arrived amidst a period of intense political, intellectual and artistic ferment stimulated in large part by the teachings of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement. ‘“Say it loud! I’m black and I’m proud”. This is fast becoming our modern culture,’ wrote Biko in 1971, ‘a culture of defiance, self assertion and group pride and solidarity.’ Drawing partly on the insights of Frantz Fanon and the poets of Négritude, and partly on the contemporary US Black Power politics of figures such as Eldridge Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael, Biko forged a visionary and potent message of South African redemption, pride and defiance. It took culture to its heart, and in the wake of Biko’s message a burgeoning arts scene rooted in the black and African experience began to flourish.

Batsumi is a masterpiece of spiritualised afro-jazz, and a prodigious singularity in the South African jazz canon. There is nothing else on record from the period that has the deep, resonant urgency of the Batsumi sound, a reverb-drenched, formidably focused pulse, underpinned by the tight-locked interplay of traditional and trap drums, and pushed on by the throb of Zulu Bidi’s mesmeric bass figures. The warm notes of Johnny Mothopeng’s guitar complete a soundscape that is at once closely packed with sonic texture and simultaneously vibrating with open space, and in whose shimmer and haze Themba Koyana and Tom Masemola soar. A sonorous echo emanating from an ancient well, reverberant with jazz ghosts and warmed by the heat of soul and pop, Batsumi is nothing short of revelatory.

Many groups from this period did not issue recordings at all, and Batsumi are unusual in even having left an official recorded legacy. Out of print since the 1970s, and never issued outside of South African in its entirety, Batsumi is a landmark South African jazz recording, and a key musical document of its time. Out of sight for far too long, Matsuli Music is proud to be able to bring this back into view, and award it the prominence it so richly deserves.


Recorded in 1974 in Soweto, this is an intriguing, rousing reminder of the inventive styles that flourished in apartheid-era South Africa, but never came to the notice of the outside world. Batsumi were an Afro-jazz outfit led by a blind guitarist, Johnny Mothopeng, along with his keyboard-playing brother Lancelot and bassist Zulu Bidi. They worked in the sprawling Johannesburg township in the early 70s, and their debut album has been unobtainable for decades. Remastered from the original tapes, and best played very loud, it's a vibrant, energetic workout in which slinky, repeated riffs are matched against wailing, sometimes psychedelic effects, with saxophone and flute solos added. There are five lengthy tracks here, and they range from the opening Lishonile, in which hypnotic, repeated phrases and solos give way after nine minutes to equally furious chanting, and the cool Anishilabi, in which a classy keyboard workout and bass solo ease into a cool, loping riff. An obscure African recording, maybe, but this is still great dance music.


South African jazz is quite well known throughout the world. Indeed, I have listened to an immense quantity of it over the past three decades. I was introduced to South African jazz through the collection of a friend I lived with in Britain, a South African exile who revered the music of Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim). It was Dollar Brand and the other supremely talented South African expatriates, Myriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, who effectively defined South African jazz for the international audience.

Of course jazz that germinated in the townships continued to grow and evolve after its luminaries emigrated, because most musicians could not flee the apartheid reality. I've explored as much of that music as I could, and have even posted some on this site. ElectricJive has provided a wonderful resource through which I have learned a great deal more during the past couple of years.

Nothing, however, prepared me for the 1974 Sowetan blast from Batsumi.Listen to this first awesome track as you read on.

Beginning with a minute of gentle, soulful acoustic bass and guitar, the rhythm suddenly accelerates. The strings are joined by drums and piano to create a dynamic, throbbing foundation for sax and, wait for it. . . flute improvisations. Two-thirds through this monster cut, all but the drums drop out, trap and traditional drums snaking around each other to create a different rhythm that drives the band for the final three minutes. This last movement and its vocals remind me strongly of Philip Tabane and Malombo.

The second track, "Emampondweni," is an urgent song lifted by Thomas Thabang Masemola's soaring flute, which fills all the empty spaces with reverb. Pianist Lancelot Sello Mothopeng begins "Itumeleng" in a classical vein with a couple of jazz chords, but then the other Batsumi musicians drop in one by one to stretch out for fifteen minutes of grooving introspection: Really, really nice. The whole album has traces of U$ soul music, which blend seamlessly with the traditional drums.

This rerelease was produced by Matt Temple over at Matsuli Music, the second loving restoration of a crucial recording made available by that tiny label. On Matt's site you can read a great deal more about Batsumi, the band, and the social context under apartheid in which this recording was made. I do not think I need to provide more details here. I'm a little behind the curve with this review, as it is, for the premier LP pressing of it is already virtually sold out! Nevertheless I think this classic reissue is important to consider, since it still is available as a lossless download here. Besides, writing the review gave me the great pleasure of listening, again and again, to this wonderful music.


The Indigenous Afro Jazz Sounds of Batsumi
Almost as if it was unexplored territory, the extraordinary landscape of South African jazz is frequently mapped out by reference to a few well known landmarks: the glorious township swing and hot jive of the 1950s; the fame and misfortune of the modern jazz exiles of the 1960s, and their energising presence in Europe; the towering trans-national figures of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim. For the jazz music and musicians of South Africa that did not by chance or choice fall into one of these categories, the long silence of history has only intermittently been broken, and the legacy of past iniquities has served to consign many names on South Africa's long roster of jazz giants to an undeserved obscurity. A wealth of music does not yet appear on the map, but when the contours of the jazz scene under apartheid begin to be surveyed in more detail, it is clear that a space must be marked out for the Soweto-based group Batsumi.

Formed in 1972 by bassist Zulu Bidi and pianist Lancelot Sello Mothopeng, and led by the blind guitarist Johnny Masweswe Mothopeng, Batsumi issued just two full length LPs, 1974's self-titled Batsumi, and the 1976 follow-up Moving Along. Though the line-ups differed slightly between the two releases, the core of the group was constant, and was comprised of Bidi and the two Mothopeng brothers, Thomas Thabang Masemola on flute and traditional drums, Themba Koyana on tenor sax, Abel Lekgabe Maleka on drums, and Buta-Buta Zwane on bongos.

Though details are scarce, some members of the group were certainly established musicians well before Batsumi hit the scene. Zulu Bidi had been a member of The Klooks, a Soweto sextet who cut two sides of driving, organ-lead jazz for Rashid Vally's independent Soultown label and enjoyed some success on the jazz festival circuit in the late 1960s. Abel Maleka had served as a regular drummer for the great pianist, composer and broadcaster Gideon Nxumalo throughout the 1960s, and was also part of a late 1950s group that had featured both Nxumalo and Malombo founder Philip Tabane. Flautist Thomas Thabang Masemola had played in a variety of Johannesburg jazz bands, including the Jazz Zionists and the Jazz Clan, and graced the show band of the successful 1972 Phiri musical under the direction of Mackay Davashe. And around the time Batsumi itself was in motion, tenorist Themba Koyana, who had taken up baritone duties in the Phiri band, was playing regularly to packed crowds at Lucky Michaels' famous Pelican jazz club, where he would appear alongside figures such as Allen Kwela and Dick Khoza - a 1973 article in Drum magazine profiling the celebrated Soweto nightspot describes the deafening applause that began as soon as Koyana stepped forward to take a solo. In 1974 these musicians and their colleagues stepped into the Audio Arts recording studio to record one of the great South African LPs of the decade.

Batsumi (R&T, 1974) is a masterpiece of spiritualised afro-jazz, and a prodigious singularity in the South African jazz canon. There is nothing else on record from the period that has the deep, resonant urgency of the Batsumi sound, a reverb-drenched, formidably focused pulse, underpinned by the tight-locked interplay of traditional and trap drums, and pushed on by the throb of Bidi's mesmeric bass figures. The warm notes of Johnny Mothopeng's guitar complete a soundscape that is at once closely packed with sonic texture and simultaneously vibrating with open space, and in whose shimmer and haze Koyana and Masemola soar. A sonorous echo emanating from an ancient well, reverberant with jazz ghosts and warmed by the heat of soul and pop, Batsumi is nothing short of revelatory.

The development of this powerfully original indigenous afro jazz sound had been set in train over a decade earlier by the Malombo Jazz Men of guitarist Philip Tabane, drummer Julian Bahula and flutist Abe Cindi. The Malombo sound was wholly original, and marked a dramatic departure from prevailing trends in South African jazz. A stripped back trio of flute, guitar and drums, it was separated from the jazz crowd by a pioneering twist: Bahula's kit was composed of the upright, mallet-struck wooden drums of the Venda spiritual tradition. In a field dominated by groups who had chosen the American modernist jazz language of Monk and Parker to convey their message, this was a bold and symbolically loaded innovation, and it brought them instant success on their debut in 1964. Despite this, the group soon fractured into two different outfits, Bahula and Cindi forming the Malombo Jazz Makers, Tabane joining with drummer Gabriel Thobejane in Malombo.

Batsumi did not cleave to the almost ascetically sparse instrumentation of the Malombo-style groups, nor were they new messengers of a specific tradition. Instead they presented their vision of modern afro-jazz within a wider instrumental setting, allowing its African roots to spread out and find new spaces. The influence of the Malombo sound is present, carried within the drums and flute of Thabang Masemola, but it is padded, supported and borne aloft by the other instruments in the warm currents that characterise the unique Batsumi musical synthesis.

The group's debut album arrived amidst a period of intense political, intellectual and artistic ferment stimulated in large part by the teachings of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement. `"Say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud". This is fast becoming our modern culture,' wrote Biko in 1971, `a culture of defiance, self assertion and group pride and solidarity.' Drawing partly on the insights of Frantz Fanon and the poets of Négritude, and partly on the contemporary US Black Power politics of figures such as Eldridge Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael, Biko forged a visionary and potent message of South African redemption, pride and defiance. It took culture to its heart, and in the wake of Biko's messagea burgeoning arts scene rooted in the black and African experience began to flourish.

The Batsumi sessions were completed on a limited budget at Audio Arts, a facility normally used for recording advertising jingles. The newly established Record and Tape Company (R&T) agreed to issue the album. A subsidiary of Satbel, R&T and associated record labels King, Soweto and Joburg sought to exploit indigenous black music and market it aggressively into the increasingly affluent and articulate urban black populations of the major metropoles of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. To fit with R&T's marketing plan and to conform with Apartheid radio-play restrictions the band were obliged to classify the songs on the cover according to language used. Stories of a seSotho hero (`Moshanyana'), the ancestral home of the Pondo people (`Empondoweni'), the setting of the sun on the rural past (`Lishonile'), joy and pride (`Itumeleng') and other themes inform the lyrics. The cover features an original painting by bassist Zulu Bidi.

By 1977 the briefly outspoken theatre groups, bands and poets of Black Consciousness faced a new wave of official interference and surveillance, and many bright stars from another generation of artists and musicians were driven underground or into exile; as David Coplan has written, bands such as Dashiki and Batsumi, who had briefly made their mark at festivals, small clubs and theatres, `vanished under repression's waves.'

Many groups from this period did not issue recordings at all, and Batsumi are unusual in even having left an official recorded legacy. Out of print since the 1970s, and never issued outside of South African in its entirety, Batsumi is a landmark South African jazz recording, and a key musical document of its time. Out of sight for far too long, Matsuli Music is proud to be able to bring this back into view, and award it the prominence it so richly deserves.


A1. Lishonile
A2. Emampondweni
A3. Mamshanyana
B1. Itumeleng
B2. Anishilabi

May 9, 2012

Jungle By Night - Hidden

Press Release:

"The evolution of afrobeat" - Jungle By Night drops their first full studio album on Kindred Spirits.

'Hidden' is the first full studio album from this group of dutch lads, who retain their youthful exuberance and innocent energy, and delve deeper into their own sound. Moving slightly away from the afro-beat blueprint that characterized last year's self-titled debut LP, the nine-piece have added Gamelan tones and studio effects to their afro-funk template, as well as exploring other parts of Africa like Mali's desert soul and djembe rhythms from Senegal. After two years of playing, and having performed over 80 gigs last year, the group have settled in their own rhythm, and 'Hidden' sees them trying out new ideas and forms.

Still keeping the unit strictly instrumental, one strength of Jungle By Night is their innate sense of democracy - the quality control of the hive mind. Tracks are jammed out and developed from the rehearsal room to the stage, keeping the audience in mind all the time. 'Hidden' feels very much like a live record, in the vein of classic jazz albums for example, while at the same time utilizing all the digital options that todays recording techniques have to offer.

The album opener 'Rangda' marks this new improved version of the band, using selected pieces of Gamelan. "Two of our band members, their families are from Indonesia, and their houses are loaded with gamelan instruments. But the Gamelan tunings have little to do with western tunings. It just sounds eerie, hypnotic and mysterious," said the band. 'Rangda' nods to the spirit of early Tortoise and mid-90's MoWax, and while Jungle By Night know how to stick to what they do best, they're partial to the odd experimental excursion too.

The album is laid out by a group who clearly understand live dynamics, building the tension of the first half of the LP with the tight riffs of 'Togetherness', the mix of west-coast organ and plaintive horns of '2 Days Before 2012' and 'Gallowstreet 34', which could easily soundtrack the 70's edition of GTA Addis Ababa. Mid-way through the album also points to an interesting path, the drum-less ambience of 'Night Fight', a duel of thumb pianos and slide guitar, awash with delays and reverbs, evoking fireflies and glow worms amid the nocturnal jungle creatures.

In the second half, tracks like 'Ethiopino', 'The Past Is History' and 'Marsvin' represent what Jungle By Night do best - taut, multi-layered grooves that are perfect for dancing to, or any other nocturnal activity you like to indulge in. One thing the boys know how to do is find the pocket and lock it, playing around with time signatures while keeping it dynamic. Perhaps the album's surprise gem is 'Ghettos Of The Mind', a languid, Tuareg-inspired roller where you can almost hear the wind whistling across the desert in the background. Producer Wiboud Burkens (Leon Ware, Michael Franti, Carleen Anderson, N'Dambi) has certainly helped craft the complex JBN dynamics into a coherent shape, which has allowed the band to play and experiment without having to worry about the final sound.

'Hidden' demonstrates natural talent and sensibility, but there's something more at work. While those outside the bubble will try to pinpoint or uncover the band's appeal and what makes them tick, somewhere between the many layers of sounds and rhythm, between the audience and the players, lies a connection that can't really be explained. Jungle By Night know better than to shine too bright a light on it.

These young Netherlands cats have been making waves in the current afrobeat scene with lots of gigs, festivals, singles and EP releases, even getting knighthood recognition from Tony Allen or Chief Udoh Essiet (respectively drummer and percussionist of Fela Kuti)… After their 7-track mini-album, Jungle By Night are finally releasing their first full-length album, Hidden, through Kindred Spirits / Rush Hour Distribution, delving deeper into a sound they're really making their own. Expect indeed more than neo-retro afrobeat here, the Dutch lads are nom implementing Malian soul, djembe rhythms from Senegal, Gamelan tones, Jazz or Funk elements and even some Rock attitude into their cooking. Yep, "cooking", and not "recipe", because there's no used formula here. After 2 years of touring, the band seems to have settled for its own sound, the musicians are now interacting with each other like the coolest jambands from the US, blending styles with ease - the blaxploitation/afrofunk of Gallowstreet 34 or the ethio-jazz/rock of the single Ethiopino being some perfect examples. A mesmerizing album from start to finish.


A state of great excitement could be felt at Headfunk Towers last week with the release of Hidden, the first full album from Dutch Afrobeat/Jazz/Funk adventurers Jungle By Night. Last year’s eponymous mini-album was a firm favourite, with it’s deep Afro influence placing it somewhere between the dancefloor and headphone nodder material. That release set a marker, could Jungle By Night continue the upward trajectory of this template?

Jungle By Night are a 9-piece instrumental band from Amsterdam connected by their love of African, Funk, Soul and Jazz music along with a desire to move the original template of these musical styles on to new territories. A band of this is size needs to be tight and driven, for a canyon of jazz awfulness awaits those who lack the vision to realise you need tunes to go with your jamming talents. Fear not! Jungle By Night have it, confirmed by no less an authority than Tony Allen as “the evolution of afrobeat”.

Opening track Rangda sets a very different tone than anything previously heard with the use of the Gamelan at the forefront of the mix, laying a hypnotic groove and slightly creepy feeling. It’s a bold way to start but one that builds the tension and anticipation. Cyclin comes next with a more familiar brass-driven sound. Organ and guitar battle, layering the funk as the mood lifts up a notch or two. Togetherness drives on into full Afrobeat and funk. For fans of earlier material, it’s here that the album really hits.

Heavy funk vibes spew out of 2 Days Before 2012. It’s locked down by a guitar lick as the horns spiral and drums skip like Fela is there with them all. Gallowstreet 34 starts with a Hip Hop break dropping into a wah-wah flecked riff before diverting left into a psychedelic swirl until finally arriving at a cheeky finish.

Short interlude track Nightflight has more psyche with a looped, scratchy background to an mbira solo. Single Ethiopino breaks this introverted moment with its driving, echoey guitar and explosive horns. The Past Is History drops back into the Afrobeat template with slow builds and solos for a number of the band, trombone player Ko possbily winning this one. This is first of a 4-part closer to the album of big, epic jams. Marsvin is driven along by organ and sax squeals, it’s a proper dance number. Unlike Ghettos Of The Mind which delves into a more mellow groove, dub-inflecked and bluesy at times. Closing track Bokoor springs a suprise to finish with a harmonica appearing subtly at first before the tune builds with guitar and percussion chatting away. It takes a full three minutes to finally explode into life with the whole band.

Hidden is an outstanding piece of work from a band obviously loving playing together. The songs structures are important and these have jam-orientated roots, much like Fat Freddy’s Drop. The whole album feel like a major labour of love that has been born by the jam, honed and perfected live then polished in the studio. Instrumental albums need to have enough variety to sustain a listeners interest and JBN succeed with ease. UK dates are promised later in the year with the hope of some UK festival appearances in the future as well.


01. Rangda
02. Cyclin'
03. Togetherness
04. Dawn
05. 2 Days Before
06. Gallowstreet 34
07. NightFight
08. Ethiopino
09. The Past Is History
10. Marsvin
11. Ghettos of the Mind
12. Bokoor

May 7, 2012

The Hygrades - In The Jungle (7inch)

The Hygrades were the creation of Enugu-based guitarist and producer Goddy Oku. They released a string of 45s for HMV/EMI in the early 70s including the tracks Keep On Moving, Somebodys Gonna Lose or Win, Rough Rider & Jumping Cat. Oku was a very talented musician and his bluesy rock-guitar licks got a chance to shine on the instrumental sides of all the 45s. He had a reputation as a technical genius, always building sound equipment, amps and even his own guitars. He still runs his Godiac studio in Enugu in the east of Nigeria.

Sleeve Notes Taken from Nigeria Rock Special Booklet


A. In The Jungle
B. In The Jungle (Instrumental)

Sold for 522 USD!!

May 4, 2012

Why It took Me 25 Years ...

Bongos Ikwue, no doubt is one of Nigeria’s most successful singers, song writers, composers and band leaders who bestrode the Nigerian music scene like a colossus. From the 70s through the 80s and even 90s with his unique blend of folk, country and jazzy songs that soothe as they morally instruct, Bongos Ikwue has come full circle, after taking a detour from his musical habitat to fulfil his professional calling as an engineer. was in Otukpo, Benue State to have this exclusive interview with him and he opened up on his musical career, the future of Nigerian music industry and other sundry issues.


As one of Nigeria’s musical icons who brought fame to the country’s musical industry right from the 60s, can you take us back to how it all started.

I was a chronic stammer and I got to find out that stammers don’t stutter when they sing. I got into lots of fighting each time I thought I got badly beaten. So, I started singing. In my days in the secondary school, we had what they called ‘record song books’, and records from foreign lands were written out in these books. The young boys and girls would buy these books and sing along with the record as it played. But I didn’t do that; instead I would always want to write my own song. In secondary school, they gave me a nick name, “Forge”. They thought I was forging the songs, because I tried to write an original song. So, at house parties, I would always get up and sing my own song about events in the school. And I kept that up from the secondary school till 1963 at the Provincial Secondary School, Okene where I formed and led a group called the Cubana Boys. And we sang songs about the school.

I remember very well, very well indeed, when some groups came from Kaduna to show a film called the ‘British Movie Tones’ and these films would only highlight things about Britain, the Queen and her empire and all of that. I came up with the micro-phone on the stage and the students shouted that they should allow me sing for them.

They preferred for me to sing for them than to watch the film. That gave me a lot of encouragement. And I could go on and on, but that was how I actually started.

What inspired you into music?

Well, that is a difficult question for me to answer. I think a lot of artistes have influenced my musical career. I think people are born; a writer is born, a good runner is born and then, he begins to practice and he gets better. I think the inspiration must have come from above. That’s who we are and we are all created to add different colours to this wonderful world.

Looking back at the different albums you have produced over the years, which of them would you say is most inspiring to you

That’s a great question and I am happy today. Particularly happy today because you in particular come all the way from Lagos State just to meet me here, that’s a great honour for me. And I am going to use a French poet who answered a question like this; They asked him, “Which of your poems is the greatest?”

And he brought a plain piece of paper and said this: ‘And somebody said I can’t see anything.’ He said look well, pointing at the plain sheet of paper in his hand. Then, he said, ‘you see my greatest poem is the one I have not written. So, I think my greatest song is the one I have not yet written.’ I have whole lots of songs coming up, may be out of what is coming in couple of months, I may have my greatest song. But, you see, since I have written it, can there still be a greatest song there?

For most Nigerians who have followed your musical career right from the 60s, they believe you’ve always been original, never tried to imitate any artiste, local or international. How would you react to this

No, I got influenced a lot by other artistes. You know, we all get influenced, otherwise we will be so rigid. You must admire somebody and want to be like somebody. The only thing is don’t overdo it, because you can never be that somebody. At the end of the day, if you have learnt what you have to learn, come back and be yourself.

Of course, I was influenced by artistes like Sam Cooke, Hopkins Lightning, Jonnies, the Ishie Brothers and I can go on and on. And when I was much younger, I almost had a voice that everybody said sounded like Sam Cooke and I think as I got older, the voice got bigger. And there are great artistes out there that I admired and enjoyed listening to, B.B King plays his own guitar like nobody else does and like I said, Jonnies was a great singer in this country, unfortunately he died. If he was alive I would have liked to work with him. He was such an original artistes.

What inspires you in writing your songs

You asked what inspires me? You are writing about people, so you must take a look at people and write about them, for them and for us. Take a song like Mustapha and Christopher. We are living in a world today and I believe that religion has brought so many calamities and unnecessary enmity between people and so, I would play down religion and play up God.

You see, if you play down religion and play up God, we will be doing great works for humanity. And so, I have written songs like ‘Your God is my God’, ‘Mustapha and Christopher’ in recent times and it’s also included in my upcoming album. Mustapha meaning Muslims and Christopher meaning Christians. (Singing) The boy called Mustapha, like the moon and star are far. He was brought up to be forever far from that Christopher. This they called religion. But if we listen to nature’s call and don’t let religious differences make a wall, then Mustapha and Christopher will live together. This is my religion and my message.

One of your hit tracks, “What’s Gonna Be Gonna Be”, somehow along the line generated some sort of controversies. Different meanings were ascribed to the title of that song by different people. Can you provide an insight into this

‘What’s Gonna Be Gonna Be’ is an old song, but everybody keeps playing it and it sounds like it is new. I think the song is almost older than you. I don’t have all the answers. You know sometimes you wake up and you start writing. I don’t know, but I know that I am speaking my own mind. A lot of things happen like that.

There is still one of your hit tracks “still searching”. What message were you trying to pass with that song

You know, some songs that become hits, you can ask a lot of artistes, they have always wondered why. At the time of writing if you ask me to pick all the songs, I probably would have picked that song as number five out of seven or eight songs.

But, it became the number one. Everybody is always searching. I think at that time I was a very young man and I wasn’t married. So, how come you are asking me this question? What else could I be searching for?

As I said, the only thing is laziness, the only religion is work. My message for this country is very huge. Nigerians should be dedicated and committed to hard work. We should learn to preserve our natural environment and avoid wastages.

As one of Nigeria’s famous musicians, how would you describe the music industry in Nigeria

Unfortunately, the music industry has changed just like everything else. Today, we are in a very different world. People are downloading and uploading through the internet. These things were not there before. The coming of the internet and cell phones has changed the world. And so must we learn to change with it. The way we promote and market things have all changed and so has the music industry. A lot of artists don’t know how to sell their works. Again, because of the advent of technology, a lot of Nigerian musicians have become lazy. The industry has changed but we need to change. We need to find a way to play what people will buy and listen to, and find a way to market it. This is a huge job, a huge problem confronting us all in this country.

What challenges have you been faced with in your musical career

Plenty of them. I mean there are as many challenges as there are many non-challenges. Without challenges there can be no success.

Just like I said, there are two tribes in this world; the good and the bad. If you look at life, there must be a state of equilibrium. If there was no justice, there will be no injustice. I can go on and on. Everything in this world exists because there is an equal and opposing element. There is nothing in this world that can be without the opposite. If there were no challenges, there can be no success.

With all your fame, your music has not really made impact outside the shores of Nigeria when compared with songs from musicians like the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey. What would you attribute to this

Well, I don’t know, maybe that’s good for them. I am a patriot; I like my country and I hope am going to make more impact in Nigeria first. And then, may be if the outside world is interested, that becomes their business. I mean, I live my life for me. Am not going to sit down here and be told by a white man that pounded yam is not good for my health.

When should Nigerians be expecting your new album

I just want all Nigerians to keep their fingers crossed for my coming album; they will be amazed to listen to an album that would play for more than two hours non-stop both in audio and visual output that will bring about an enhancement of culture and good music in the nation. All I believe is that whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing very well.

But, why is it taking you almost 25 years to release another album since the last one

That a very good question but I’ve been doing some other things within those period and I’ve always bear it in mind that I’ll be back in the industry soon. With this, I’ll be releasing a triple album at a go very soon.

What is your message to the young artistes who aspire to be great like you

My message is very simple. Nigerian youths, Nigerian people, I have a two line philosophy. The only thing is laziness, the only religion is work. Very simply put. I think they have their own fans, but you see, maybe we were all created differently, it’s not about me or about them, it’s about everything.

It is about society too. Why do we allow ourselves as a country to be completely bombarded by foreign propaganda? Why? You know today’s young Nigerians have their teams in Man-united and Chelsea, they don’t remember one local club’s name not to talk of their players.

Our young people must be trained first to know themselves. We must come to terms with reality always. I am an Idoma, I am a Nigerian. I have to come to terms with this. I will die Idoma, I will die a Nigerian. Once you come to terms with that, then you are going to respect your essence. You are going to respect your people; you are going to respect yourself. And until you know yourself, until you understand this, we all have a long way to go., April 2012

May 2, 2012

... for Africa!

Femi Kuti talks love and care for Africa

2011 was a good year for the international Afrobeat superstar Femi Kuti-a very good year. Professionally, multiple blessings rained down upon him, beginning in April with the release of his critically acclaimed album "Africa for Africa" (Knitting Factory, 2011). In addition, his triumphant 21-city North American tour brought in the crowds in the United States and Canada, and as the year came to an end, Kuti's "Africa for Africa" received a Grammy Award nomination for Best World Music from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, presenters of the coveted annual prize.

When asked his feelings about all of his latest accomplishments, notably "Africa for Africa" being distinguished for its extraordinary artistic merits, an extremely humble Kuti replied, "I am very happy, thank you, but I have to work harder."

When Kuti talks about working harder, one wonders how much harder one man can work. The gifted, driven artist is a brilliant composer/musician/vocalist/bandleader/entrepreneur whose business portfolio includes the current installation of the popular nightclub Afrika Shrine, which he co-owns with his sister, Yeni, who manages the enterprise.

Modeled after the world-renowned Africa Shrine created in the ‘70s by their legendary father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the originator of the Afrobeat genre, today's version, like the elder maverick, serves as both a place of entertainment and a think tank for a social and political movement.

Similar to his father, who was both an artist and an activist, Kuti is equally involved in fighting for justice, equity and a corruption-free Nigeria as he is an advocate for an innovative, prosperous, united Africa where peace reigns.

Born in London several seasoned decades ago, he was named Olufela Olufemi Anikulapo Kuti. Blessed with an innate sixth sense, like a seer Kuti is intuitively in touch with the world-physically and spiritually. Consequently, he is adept in his lyrics at predicting things that are destined to happen.

This is evident on "Africa for Africa"; tracks such as "Politics in Africa," "Can't Buy Me," "Africa for Africa" and "Bad Government" foreshadowed what came to pass in Africa in 2011, including the recent Nigeria oil subsidy drama that played out this January, with Kuti advocating for the people.

When asked about his innate gift to write songs about future events, Kuti responded with sincerity, "I really don't know how I do it, but I just write about what worries me deep down inside."

In reflecting upon the title "Africa for Africa," Kuti explained, "I chose that title because I felt it was the most important topic. As Africans, we must start to care and love each other for us to come out of the mess we're in. I felt it was the most important topic to try and get people to think in that direction."

Kuti also chose another path for recording the album when he decided to use the Decca/Afrodisia studio in his hometown.

"We knew we had to record in Lagos," he said. "My producer Sodi came to check out the studios and said it was the best he could find, that it had a good vibe. The last time we tried we failed because the studio hall and equipment weren't good. Nothing went well for us."

Kuti added, "We felt we should be as simple as possible and as original to my music as possible-less technology to enhance the music. To save cost, we had to try harder to make it work in Lagos."

This is when the lights came on about Kuti's earlier comment about working harder. It is apparent that in Nigeria, as its leading artist, he has to go the extra mile to ensure perfection in his work. Kuti revealed, "It was over 10 years since I worked in the Decca studio; I thought they had packed up. My father did his early albums there in the '70s. Sodi felt we should try and make it work there despite the old, rundown mixer, which made recording complicated, but it had better soundproofing and better engineers."

He paused momentarily reflecting on the positive experience. "It brought back good memories," he smiled. "I'm happy we gave it a try."

"Africa Sings" highly recommends Kuti's acclaimed masterworks for your CD collection. These entertaining, insightful, quality albums will give you a taste of why Kuti's "Africa for Africa" received the Grammy Award nomination for Best World Music.