Tag Archives: Nigerian music

Artist Profiles: Babatunde Olatunji

Babatunde Olatunji

Babatunde Olatunji was one of the 20th century’s greatest masters of percussion. A beloved cross-cultural ambassadors, he made an unparalleled contribution in the saga of modern rhythm as he almost single-handedly seeded the sounds of African music into the American mainstream.

Born in 1927 to a Yoruban fishing family in Ajido, Nigeria, Olatunji arrived to the United States in 1950 to study political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where as an undergraduate he began performing informally and produced a popular show based on his country’s culture and traditions. He continued to play music intermittently during his graduate studies at NYU’s School of Public Administration, culminating in a Radio City Music Hall engagement backed by a full orchestra in 1957 – which brought him to the attention of the legendary jazz producer John Hammond at Columbia Records (whose other discoveries included Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen).

Olatunji’s debut album, Drums Of Passion, was released in 1959 and was an unprecedented smash hit; selling over five million copies, it was the first record to broadly introduce the sounds of African music to western ears. Early career milestones included that fateful performance at Radio City Music Hall, another at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and national TV appearances on The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Bell Telephone Hour.

Olatunji’s dedication to the preservation and communication of African culture led him to establish his dream – the institute of African Cultural Studies. Headquartered in the heart of Harlem, he made his commitment to education by offering affordable classes in a wide range of cultural subjects to adults and young people – including not only “just plain folks” but also such major cultural icons of the era as Malcolm X and John Coltrane. His expertise in the area of African music and dance led to a diversity of new projects and roles throughout his life: as director of an educational television series; as co-author of the book African Musical Instruments, Their Origins and Use; and as an authoritative consultant for innumerable museum exhibits, media documentaries, and publications. He was active in the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s, traveling with the Reverend Martin Luther King as a fixture at NAACP gatherings.

Babatunde Olatunji

In the late 1980s, Gratefu! Dead percussionist Mickey Hart released the classic Drums Of Passion: The Invocation as part of his groundbreaking The World CD series for the Rykodisc label, followed by a multi-artist collaboration with Olatunji called Drums Of Passion: The Beat. Baba became an integral part of Hart’s award-winning At The Edge in 1990, along with jerry Garda and Zakir Hussain, and appeared regularly on tour with the Grateful Dead during the height of their fame and popularity – becoming a seminal influence in the drum circle phenomenon which blossomed from those halcyon days. In 1991, Olatunji and Hart co-founded the pan-global percussion supergroup, Planet Drum (the ensemble included Hart, Olatunji/ Zakir Hussain, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Sikiru Adepoju and Vikku Vinayakram) – winning the first-ever Grammy? Award for Best World Music Album, and selling out a national U.S. tour including legendary shows at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the historic Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.

Olatunji penned many original compositions, including scores for both the Broadway and Hollywood productions of Raisin In The Sun. He assisted fellow Morehouse alumnus Bill Lee with the music for She’s Cotta Have It, the hit film produced and directed by, and starring, Bill’s son Spike.

More recent independent recordings, Celebrate Freedom, Justice, and Peace and Healing Rhythms, Songs and Chants -along with the Grammy?-nominated Love Drum Talk (Chesky Records, 1997) – found Africa’s musical ambassador to the west still forging forward with vitality and dedication, despite his advancing age and the increasing pain and debility he endured as a diabetic.

As a faculty member in his final years at both the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, Olatunji tirelessly pursued his mission of spreading African culture through the teaching of traditional drumming, dance, and chant. He lectured and taught at Universita Degli Studi Ni Napoli (Naples, Italy); Kodo Drum Society (Sado Island, Japan); Tantra Galarie (Interlocken, Switzerland); Frankfurter Ring (Frankfurt, Germany), and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, Virginia). In 1996, he was named Impresario of the Ghana Dance Ensemble, one of the two national dance companies of Ghana, and for many years led annual workshops at the International Centre for African Music and Dance at Ghana’s University of Accra.

Babatunde Olatunji

In 1996, he also received an honorary doctorate from Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York for his outstanding and selfless service to the arts

Babatunde Olatunji passed away Sunday, April 6th, 2003, at Esalen Institute, California, with his family by his side.

Discography:

Drums of Passion (Columbia, 1959)
Zungo! (1961)
Flaming Drums (Columbia, 1962)
Olatunji
Drums!, Drums!, Drums! (Roulette, 1964)
Soul Makossa (Paramount, 1973)
Dance to the Beat of My Drum (Bellaphon, 1986)
Drums of Passion: The Invocation (Rykodisc, 1988)
Drums of Passion: The Beat (Rykodisc, 1989)
Drums of Passion: Celebrate Freedom, Justice & Peace (Olatunji, 1993)
Drums of Passion and More (Bear Family, 1994)
Babatunde Olatunji, Healing Rhythms, Songs and Chants (Olatunji, 1995)
Love Drum Talk (Chesky, 1997)
Drums of Passion [Expanded] (2002)
Olatunji Live at Starwood (2003)
Healing Session (Narada, 2003)
Circle of Drums (Chesky, 2005)

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Artist Profiles: Bola Abimbola

Bola Abimbola

Bola Abimbola was born in 1966 and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, the large African metropolis that gave us celebrated African musical pioneers Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. With a childhood full of singing and drumming in the traditions of Yoruba and West African culture, a career in music came naturally to him. He debuted professionally as a songwriter and producer for some of Nigeria?s most successful young artists, including Daddy Showkey, Saheed Osupa and Pasuma.

In 1997, he released his first recording as a solo act, titled, Buyanga, which earned him the honor of being named Artist of the Year at Nigeria’s Fame Awards in 1998. His talents then caught the attention of King Sunny Ade, who invited Bola to tour with him as a guest artist and backing vocalist. Bola appeared with Sunny on his 1999 world tour and at several WOMAD (World of Music, Arts, and Dance) festivals. King Sunny Ade’s recording, Seven Degrees North (2000), also features Bola’s voice.

After leaving Sunny’s band, Bola relocated to the United States to study and share influence with American musicians. He completed another album, titled, ‘Kekerenke’, which was released in Nigeria in 2000, and reflects his love of American Rhythm and Blues. With an enthusiasm for worldliness and all things percussion, Bola has been recording and touring with other like-minded artists, such as Grammy-winning Nigerian percussionist Sikiru Adepoju (Babatunde Olatunji, Mickey Hart) and master conguero Giovanni Hidalgo (Tito Puente, Paul Simon, Eddie Palmieri).

Stylistically, Bola Abimbola is known for his versatility, equally comfortable with: traditional Nigerian genres of Juju, Highlife, and Apala; contemporary African popular music, like Afrobeat and Fuji; plus American Pop and R&B. He has even made successful forays into Reggae, Soca, Soukous, and Electronica.

Bola currently resides in Denver, Colorado. He performs regularly throughout the United States, where he finished a full-length album, Ara Kenge, his first U.S. solo release. It features a cast of diverse, talented and noteworthy musicians, rich vocal harmonies, traditional Yoruba percussion, Afrobeat groove, and a touch of pop song structure and production.

In 2017 he released an album titled Free.

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Artist Profiles: D’banj

D’banj

Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo, better known as D’banj, was born June 9, 1980 in Zaria, Nigeria. D’banj is a singer-songwriter as well as a harmonica master and a charismatic stage performer with boundless energy. D’banj grew up listening to music by Fela Kuti (“My great mentor.”) and has performed at Femi Kuti?s New Afrika Shrine in Lagos, as well as the Shrine Synchro System’s regular London night at Cargo and the Black President (The Art & Legacy of Fela Kuti) concert series at the Barbican in London.

Without ever turning into a mere carbon copy of his hero D’banj brings Afrobeat to life and into the 21st century with breathless enthusiasm, as well as a good dose of humor. He vows that all of his songs are based on true stories of his own life, often hilarious, but also with a deeper meaning which documents the struggle of a young African trying to achieve his dreams ? in his case is to be a successful artist/musician.

D’banj performs in Yoruba, English and, like his hero Fela Kuti, in Pidgin (broken) English, and has performed his songs as a special guest at various JJC & 419 Squad shows including this year?s WOMAD Rivermead.

Discography:

No Long Thing (Mo’Hits Records, 2005)
RunDown Funk U Up (Mo’Hits Records, 2006)
The Entertainer (Mo’Hits Records, 2008)
King Don Come (DKM Inc, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Dele Sosimi

Dele Sosimi

Dele Sosimi is a British-Nigerian musician born February 22, 1963 in London, England.

Dele Sosimi stands out as one of the most active musicians currently on the Afrobeat scene worldwide. Dele’s career began when he joined Fela’s Anikulapo-Kuti’s Egypt 80 (1979-1986) and then subsequently with Fela’s son Femi Anikulapo-Kuti’s Positive Force (1986-1994). In both bands he was musical director and keyboard player.

Since Fela created Afrobeat, Dele’s Afrobeat pedigreee is therefore impeccable. The music is a blend of complex but highly danceable funk grooves, Nigerian traditional music (including hi-life), African percussion, underpinning the jazz horns and solos from other instruments, as well as rhythmical singing.

Dele toured extensively around the world with Fela and Femi, re-orchestrating and arranging music and also handling the recruiting and training of new musicians. His keyboard work can be heard on Fela’s Power Show, Original Sufferhead, MOP 1 (Movement of the People), Authority Stealing, Army Arrangeement, ITT (International Thief Thief), and Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, and on Femi’s albums No Cause for Alarm and Mind Your Own Business.

Dele has also performed often with Tony Allen, the king of Afrobeat drumming. Following his first solo album “Turbulent Times” (Eko Star 2002), he was invited to select the tracks for the 3-CD compilation titled “Essential Afrobeat” (Universals Family Recordings, 2004).

He was producer and co-writer of “Calabash Volume 1: Afrobeat Poems” by Ikwunga, the Afrobeat Poet (2004). He is a central member of the Wahala Project, whose single Wahala appears on Puma’s 2006 Soccer World Cup Compilation CD. He has also featured on British rapper TY’s recent album Closer (on the track Sweating for your Salary), and his Turbulent Times is featured on The Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project (2006).

Currently based in London, Dele is an educator and instructor in Afrobeat (via his Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Foundation, and as a Visiting Lecturer in Music and Media, London Metropolitan University). Sosimi is abetted by a group of musicians, most of whom have either played with him on previous records or have gigged with him on the live circuit.

Discography:

Turbulent Times (Eko Star, 2002)
Identity (Helico Records, 2007)
You No Fit Touch Am (2015)

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Artist Profiles: I. K. Dairo

I. K. Dairo

For many years, I.K. Dairo was an influential Juju musician and made a lasting impression on musicians in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

The son of an itinerant carpenter, Isaiah Kehinde Dairo was born on January 6th, 1931 in Kwara State, Nigeria. The death of his twin brother Taiwo, according to Dairo, was caused by his mother’s refusal to heed the oracle’s revelation that the twins wished her to take them along the street with song and dance (a Yoruba tradition for the birth of twins).

Because his father did not believe much in formal education, Isaiah Kehinde attended school for only three years. When his father left his carpentry job with the Nigerian National Railway in 1937, he took all of his 12 children back to his farm in the Ijebu-Ijesa area of Oyo state. Shortly before they left, the father, drawing on his carpentry skills, made a drum for his son. I.K. was so fond of his drum that he wouldn’t part with it. Whether at mealtime, while going to fetch water or any other activity, his drum was always with him.

As a youth, I.K. apprenticed and trained as a barber, but used all of his free time to play drums. He spent evenings watching his predecessors of Juju music (Orioke, Oladele Oro and others) in action. Using knowledge he gained from his father, I.K. began to make his own drums. Not long after (in 1946) he gathered up enough young friends to form his first band. For the next fifteen years I.K. sojourned through many professions including cloth peddler, road worker, cocoa farm laborer, construction worker (carrying cinder blocks on his head) and even a carpenter. I.K., however, never left his drum far behind. During the day he labored, and at night he played with early Juju masters like Ojoge Daniel based at Ibadan.

Weary of all his wandering, financial success having eluded him, I.K. returned home in 1954 with only a sixpence, a guitar and his carpentry tools. In 1954, with no more than sheer confidence, I.K. formed the ten member Morning Star Orchestra. I.K. Dairo and the Morning Star Orchestra began to play at the usual range of available venues, weddings, naming ceremonies, burials and so forth, and their reputation grew. In 1961 they were invited to compete with 15 other Juju bands at a WNBS/TV contest. I.K. Dairo and the Morning Star Orchestra took first place and so began their rise to international fame. It was during this period that the name was changed from Morning Star Orchestra to I.K. Dairo and his Blue Spot Band.

When Nigeria became a republic in 1963, I.K. Dairo became a knight of Imperial Britain. Queen Elizabeth, on her tour of Nigeria bestowed upon him the title Member of the British Empire (M.B.E.) and he became the first African musician to receive such an honor.

I.K.’s star continued to shine as that decade brought him success after success. The band traveled all over the world, representing Nigeria in the Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar in 1965 (where I.K. and the Blue Spots stole the show from O.K. Jazz), and in the World Music Festival in Tokyo in 1972. They performed widely in Europe and recorded in London where I.K. dazzled the studio engineers at Decca Records by recording two full LPs and two singles in one day (DWAPS #33 &34).

In 1958 I.K. amicably parted ways with the original Blue Spots (who went on to form their own group) and gathered up a new band, even sharper than the original Blue Spots. It was during this era (1957-75) that I.K. Dairo had an immeasurable influence on Juju music and the Nigerian music industry. He introduced numerous instruments to Juju music, including “talking drum” and accordion and he made guitar its staple instrument. He pioneered the use of the “hook” (short memorable refrains) in his songs as well as singing in regional dialects. his clarion voice and a knack for eloquent lyrics, coupled with his deep involvement in the church earned him the title Baba Aladura (Father of Blessings).

In 1975 his career took a sudden downturn. In his own works, “Record dealers who used to sleep at my doorstep refused to sell my records. I built two hotels. One at Ondo (town) was called Parkland Hotel…If I walked into the hotel and noticed that there were many people around, I might decide to play for them. But once I’d pick up the guitar, they’d all leave in anger. If (Ebenezer) Obey, Sunny (Ade) or any other artist come, the whole place would be filled up. So I just stopped playing” A deeply religious man, I.K. Dairo increasingly devoted his time to the Cherubim and Seraphim church movement in which he was already a prominent figure. He preached regularly in the church built at his primary residence on Kehinde Dairo street, one of several streets named after him in Lagos, and integrated Juju music into his services. When the Lord revealed to him that his hotels and nightclubs were dens for thieves and prostitution he closed them down (including Kakadu nightclub, one of Lagos best known hot spots). After a stormy decade of preaching and several unsuccessful forays into the business world, I.K. Dairo MBE came back to what he knew best, music.

I. K. Dairo, died February 7, 1996 in Efon-Alaiye, near Akure, Nigeria. He was 65.

Discography:

I Remember My Darling (Berachah Music, 1980)
Mo Fara Mi Fun O (Berachah Music, 1980)
Ere Omo Moji F’owuromi Sa (Berachah Music, 1980)
Juju Master (Original Music, 1990)
I Remember (Music of the World, 1991)
Ashiko (Xenophile Music, 1992)
Definitive Dairo (Xenophile Music, 1996)

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Artist Profiles: Lagbaja

Lagbaja

Lagbaja is widely considered to be one of Africa’s most exciting and interesting contemporary artists. Combining sophisticated compositions with a dynamic stage show and enigmatic personality, he was a popular in Nigeria, in constant demand for live performance and ubiquitous on the airwaves. His monthly shows at his own Motherlan’ Niteclub, in the heart of Ikeja – the capital of Lagos state, sold-out well in advance.

Lagbaja – which in the Yoruba language has a simultaneous multiple-translation meaning of “somebody”, “nobody”, “anybody” and “everybody” – has always performed masked. On one level, by never revealing his human identity, Lagbaja represents the common man and the faceless voice of the masses. On yet another level, his elaborate masks and stage costumes link him to the ancient tradition of Egungun: Africa’s ancestral masqueraded spirits, who come out in times of crisis helping to guide the people towards truth and resolution.

Musically speaking, Lagbaja’s sound is unique, incorporating a range of influences from Afrobeat to Highlife, Juju, Pop, Funk and Hip-Hop. Generally his music is identified under the umbrella of Afrobeat, which is one of his major influences. Incorporating contemporary elements such as horns, guitars and keyboards alongside the most traditional of Nigerian instruments (such as Bata and Dundun drums), Lagbaja?’s music spans the generations of African expression.

He has a U.S. CD, We Before Me, on the IndigeDisc/Ryko label.

Discography:

Ikira (1993)
Lagbaja (1993)
C’est Un African Thing ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 1986)
Me (2000)
We ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2000)
We and Me Part II (2000)
Abami – A Tribute To Fela ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2000)
Africano ….. the mother of groove ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2005)
Paradise (2009)
Sharp Sharp (2009)
200 Million Mumu – The Bitter Truth (2012)

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Artist Profiles: Seun Kuti

Seun Kuti

Aftobeat saxophonist and vocalist Seun Anikulapo Kuti has kept the grace, energy and strength of his father Fela Kuti. With Egypt 80’s musicians, Fela’s legendary group, Seun plays live again the most original incarnation of Afrobeat: using the phrases, the solid brass section, the incomparable groove of African percussion and voices.

With an astonishing maturity, Seun leads with tremendous energy his band on stage, playing his father’s repertory as well as his own compositions.

Discography:

Think Africa (2007)
Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 (Tôt ou Tard, 2008)
From Africa With Fury: Rise (Knitting Factory Records/Because Music, 2011)
A Long Way To the Beginning (Knitting Factory Records, 2014)
Struggle Sounds, EP (Sony Masterworks, 2016)
Black Times (Strut Records, 2018)

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Artist Profiles: Majek Fashek

Majek Fashek

African reggae star Majek Fashek has been called a prophet and a poet, and is recognized as one of Nigeria’s greatest singers and musicians. His powerful world beat sound incorporates his core influences (Bob Marley, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Jimi Hendrix), seamlessly meshing roots, rock, reggae and Afrobeat into a unique signature sound called kpangolo. Majek describes it as “the sound of many cultures coming together.”

Majek Fashek has always sung from the soul about the political and social struggles he has faced in his long and winding road from Nigeria to the U.S. He first attracted international attention in 1987 when his song, “Send Down The Rain” seemed to coax a rainstorm that ended one of the worst droughts in Nigeria’ s history. Performing at an outdoor theater, he saw the thirsty crowd yearning for just a few drops of water. No one could imagine the possibility of a downpour, but as Majek sang the lyric “the sky looks misty and cloudy; it looks like the rain’s gonna fall today,” clouds gathered in the sky, thunder cracked and rain soaked the barren ground. Since that momentous occasion, Fashek has become one of Africa’s most revered contemporary musical performers, rivaling Afro-reggae compatriots Alpha Blondy and Lucky Dube in recognition and popularity around the world.

While he developed an early interest in Jamaican riddims, Fashek was equally drawn to the music of Indian cinema. Learning to play guitar while in secondary school, Fashek joined a band called Jah Stix and, after graduating from the New Era College’s Arts Program, he began playing in Lagos nightclubs, universities and even prisons. Fashek enjoyed a close relationship with the legendary late Nigerian musician and bandleader Fela Kuti, (he includes a Fela composition “Water No Get Enemy” on his new release Little Patience). “He’s like my big brother,” Majek has said and like Fela, he not only delivers hard-hitting rhythms, but also a forceful criticism of social and political issues.

Discography:

Prisoner Of Conscience (Tabansi/Mango, 1987)
I & I Experience ‎(CBS, 1989)
Spirit Of Love (Interscope Records, 1991)
So Long Too Long ‎(Sony Music, 1991)
Rainmaker ‎(Lightyear Entertainment, 1997)
Little Patience ‎(November Records/33rd Street, 2005)

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Artist Profiles: Sola Akingbola

Sola Akingbola

Musician and actor Sola Akingbola has spent most of his life in London, UK, but his roots are in Oregun, Nigeria, where he was born to Yoruba parents. Describing his relationship to Nigeria as a musical odyssey in which he finds his way home via exploration of the unique melodies, rhythmic structures and philosophical poetry of the Yoruba people. Sola reveals his passion for the language of music: “I was always seduced by the sound of the Yoruba language and the way it was expressed within the drumming. When a Yoruba drummer plays, it’s not just music: he’s talking, reciting, teasing, invoking and praising. These qualities open up other worlds of interest for me that go beyond music; worlds that lead me to history, to the essence of my people. ”

Inspired early on by Afro-fusion bands like Fela Kuti and Manu Dibango, Sola’s first journey into Yoruba music was playing percussion and then kit-drum for fellow Nigerian percussionist Gasper Lawal of the Oro Band, who was also based in the UK: “Gasper opened my ears and eyes to a rhythmic perspective that I always felt, but due to a lack of knowledge and technique was unable to realize. The first music I heard was Yoruba. It was inside the language I heard my parents speaking and pulsing through the drumming I soaked up as a child, listening to my dad’s favorite Yoruba artists: King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Ayinia Kollington, Yusuf Olatunji and Haruna Isola.”

Entering the jazz scene in the early 90s with the Ronny Jordan band and then finding his feet for the last decade in the jazz-funk of Jamiroquai, Sola has toured the world and played innumerable major international venues.

His 2007 solo CD, Routes To Roots: Yoruba Drums From Nigeria, took Sola way back to his roots exploring the unique melodies, rhythmic structures and philosophical poetry of the Yoruba people.

Discography:

Routes To Roots – Yoruba Drums From Nigeria ‎(ARC Music, 2007)
Nigerian Beats: Rhythm and Rhyme (ARC Music, 2007)

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Artist Profiles: Baba Olajagun

Baba Olajagun

Born in Oka-Akoko in Ekiti State of Nigeria, Baba Olajagun (vocals, talking drum) is a pillar of New York’s Nigerian community. A highly esteemed master drummer, teacher and ceremonial performer, Jagun first came to the U.S. as a member of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Egypt 80 band.

Residing in New York City since the early 1990s, Baba Jagun has focused his efforts on keeping the traditional rhythms of his homeland present and accounted for. The 2003 release of the groundbreaking dance remix “Odo Oya” on Spiritual Life Records put Olajagun on the map as a recording artist in his own right.

Jagun’s own orchestra, Ancestral Rhythms, features some of the most skilled and exciting percussionists currently based in New York City: Kunle Ade (conga, jembe); Baba Azizi (conga, djembe); Foly Kolade (conga); Segun Ajaye (conga, djembe); Arthemio (conga); Tunji (sakara); Oscar Debe and Jojo Kuo (trap drums), and Judith Rahilly (backing vocals).

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