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Helico Records: Press

Afrobeat is an iconoclastic music. It is essentially the creation and vision of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who took hard bop, the modal experiments of Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, the Afrocentric black power sentiments prevalent in the free jazz movement, fused it with James Brown, took it back to its Nigerian roots and put it all on the one. When Fela died, the music reeled for a while. Shell-shocked and two equally extreme reaction to this state of affairs coalesced essentially into two broad schools with divergent methodologies in their approach to Afrobeat.

In one school the music had turned inward; mired in their roots they relinquished the future and put out music steeped in nostalgia, trying to channel the essence or presence of Fela. Fine, but ultimately a futile exercise, as Fela had made his definitive statements. The new music lacked his charisma and his intellect, and offered nothing new or stimulating. The other school, in their bid to escape the domineering presence of Fela’s ghost and to declare their originality, shed almost all vestiges of Afrobeat orthodoxy, haphazardly incorporating current musical and commercial trends. This also proved largely unconvincing and ultimately unsatisfying.

Well, brothers and sisters, friends, the antidote to the Afrobeat doldrums is at hand. With this album, his sophomore offering, Dele Sosimi, ex-Fela sideman and former musical director of Femi Kuti, has delivered a confident, passionate, elegant and intelligently crafted answer to Afrobeat’s real identity crisis, and he has done this without losing the swagger and the grit that is Afrobeat. Because, to him, his identity is not in question: Afrobeat is encoded in his genes.

He is not afraid to acknowledge his lineage, neither is he content to navel-gaze, paralysed by the enormity of the music’s legacy. The music is Afrobeat because Afrobeat is part of his musical DNA but it’s a new music and as such must be dealt with on its own terms. In his hands Afrobeat is teased into wonderful new shapes and forms that make you exclaim: “I didn’t know you could do this with this music.” It is a new vision and conception. This is the Phoenix reborn. Afrobeat has been re-invented. In Sosimi’s hands Afrobeat has become a wide-open genre. The harmonic palette is so much wider and far-ranging, the vistas are more expansive; the music has been liberated from the narrow (even if rich) constraints of modal minor grooves and political rhetoric. Not only does he bring chord changes – but also the 360degrees of life are dealt with here, from falling in love to the pleasures of taking a stroll. The political concerns still resonate in the music, but they are addressed in metaphors and similitudes. The direct protest associated with Afrobeat lyrics is no longer axiomatic.

Sosimi has iron chops; to use his words slightly out of context, “the result of tenacity and attitude”. The rhythmic intensity of his keyboard work is matched by a keen and adventurous harmonic sensibility, shading the groove with an amazing array of colours and nuances, in constant dialogue with the horns and the rhythm section, even when not soloing. And when he does solo, it is always eloquent and captivating. Sosimi is still the trailblazing keyboard player in Afrobeat.

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. They all have chops to spare and the communication between them is near telepathic. Afrobeat is lovingly given the virtuoso treatment. It is interesting to note that the songs were written by Sosimi and Elias, and along with Thurgur they also arranged all the horns on this album. Femi Elias, who plays a fretless six-string electric bass on most of the tracks, is a revelation. The bass growls, twists, turns, pulsates, grooves and does all kinds of things that you do not normally find the bass doing in Afrobeat, intelligently injecting the funk into every crevice of the music and in the process has written a new lexicon for Afrobeat bass. Phil Dawson (and Kunle Olasaju on Omo Mo Gba Ti E) on guitars deliver tasty, funky rhythm guitars and some truly exquisite solos. The contrast between the two is significant. Olasoju, ex-Femi Kuti, delivers solos in the classic Afrobeat style, reflecting the clear Yoruba influence of the music - its DNA - while Dawson approaches the music from a wide range of angles, again revealing the endless possibilities of what can be done with this music. Mauricio Ravalico (and Lekan Babalola on Wahala) handle percussions with verve and fluency and colour and shade the music tastefully everywhere. The horns – without question by far the tastiest horn section in Afrobeat - though harmonically complex and challenging, brim with rhythmic inventiveness and are delivered with laser-like precision by the horn section of Justin Thurgur, Tom Allan, Eric Rohner and Rob Leach. Together with the rhythm section they propel, cajole, inflect and reflect, underline and punctuate, lead and follow the music with joyous abandon. Kunle Olofinjana on drums meshes perfectly with Elias on the bass and like a dream machine the groove never lets up. The gear changes are seamless, no accent or punctuation is missed. Therefore, we have an album on which there is not a single dud track on this album; every track offers rewards.

Ojoro – Ojoro is a left-jab, right-hook and total takedown of a riposte, aimed at certain elements in the music industry. In classic Afrobeat/hip-hop “battle-rap” mode, Sosimi tackles the question of authenticity and personal identity within a musical genre. Bass, drums, keyboards and guitar enter together in rumbling, measured groove; then the horns crisply swagger in and Sosimi dispatches all questions about identity with a lyrical broadside that lets you know that even though he has his roots, he also has his own style, game and ways, and though rooted in Afrobeat, this is a new music. It is a thrilling emancipation declaration.

Tho Ro Way Ya Hand – Afrobeat has always been in the paradoxical position of being art music with a popular following, worldwide yet underground. This track exemplifies that phenomenon. It kicks off with an intricate celebratory fanfare, played in unison by the horns and the rhythm section. The band then locks into a groove of seismic potency. The funk is fat and angular and, yes, so is the Afrobeat. And while I was mulling over the harmonic complexities of the track, my five-year old daughter was singing the hook: “Throw away your hand.” Afrobeat populism with the antidote frees your mind and boots your sacroiliac into gear.

B.B.E.N.Y. (Best Bet) – is a tale of a Friday evening encounter with a mad dog on the murky streets of Lagos, the dog being a metaphor for the ills and injustices of contemporary African life inflicted on the people by the very agencies charged with their protection. Delivered to a mean, moody head-butting groove of such percolating intensity, you are liable to have your hands stuck to the repeat-button. The bass and the drums imply hip-hop without losing sight of Afrobeat. Could this be the new funky drummer/rap payback for the 21st century?

E Jus’ Dey Go – Dealing with the persistent and tyrannical flow of time, it is a call to wake up and stop squandering potentials and opportunities, be they personal or national. Starts with a bass solo over chord changes (a first in Afrobeat) and is underpinned by a groove that is in no hurry to go anywhere. The bass tastefully slapped and muted bubbles unhurriedly, the music bright and sunny unfurls leisurely, revealing an aural landscape that has not been heard in Afrobeat before. There is a deliciously lyrical keyboard solo from Sosimi. Like taking a stroll along the palm-lined marinas of Lagos in the 1960s, in a nation where the future was an open book and the possibilities endless. Maybe it is a prophecy of future possibilities if we all heed the call to “wake up yourself, wake up your mind”.

I Don Waka – A bright, tuneful upbeat and evocative slice of high life-infused Afrobeat (major and bubbling over, in contrast to minor, moody and underground). The music flows majestically like a river. This is music without worries, music without cares, music to sway to. With a sweet, sweet trumpet solo by Tom Allan and some thoughtful interventions by Olofinjana.

Local Champion – A thinly disguised swipe at American world hegemony. Set to a bullyboy of a groove, capable of turning the UN security delegates into butt-shaking groove fiends, with a meditative solo from Sosimi and a fine solo from Justin Thurgur on trombone.

Omo Mo Gba Ti E – is an unabashed lovesong without the slightest trace of lyrical misogyny but the chest-thumping machismo of the music should ensure that the supplicant and the object of desire will be making babies before the track is over.

Ori Oka – is an instrumental invocation on which the musicians stretch out over a laid back groove that nevertheless manages to project heaps of attitude; with fine solos from all the musicians.

Wahala – Wahala is a fine update on classic Afrobeat grooves and themes. Dealing with the vagaries of life in modern day Nigeria, but again the harmonic palette is richer and more expansive. The horns boppishly deliver the main riff and the scintillating guitar hook is deployed for its melodic lift rather than just being a mere rhythmic foil. The horns are further used to create atmospheric and rhythmic textures beneath the soloists during the solos.

This is a gem of an album, which, though instantly captivating, rewards repeated listening as new layers and textures of the detailed craftsmanship that went into the making of this album reveal themselves. Like the young twins on the cover (by the way those are Sosimi’s boys) the lineage of the music - the genetic material - is clear; but the identity and the character of the music on this album are unique and individual. In Sosimi’s hands, Afrobeat is not a form maintaining a holding pattern while clinging to the past, but is once again a young and vibrant art form, looking out into the future where the possibilities are endless. That is the identity of Dele Sosimi. I defy you not to come along for the ride once you play this album.



Remi Adewusi
Remi Adewusi - Music Journalist
Identity - sporting an arresting portrait of Sosimi’s twin sons on the CD’s front cover - is the anxiously-awaited follow-up to Turbulent Times, which carried Afrobeat in a decidedly adventurous direction at the beginning of the millennium.

In point of fact, adventure and a quest to arrive in new places, has always been the goal of Afrobeat’s avatars. Founder Fela Kuti was the ultimate explorer, having experimented with the funk of James Brown, the modal experiments of Miles Davis and hypnotic indigenous Yoruba grooves. And that’s just the music. The lyrical content addressed political and economic injustice at home in Nigeria and across the world, unafraid to grapple the nettle of controversy, asking for answers to the thorniest of questions, and landing the musical maverick, time and again, in the proverbial soup!



Sosimi’s sophomore album retains this essential inquisitorial spirit.
It’s a fitting homage to Gbedu with nine meaty tracks. Numbers such as “Ori Oka” and “Omo Mo Gba Ti E” are about eleven minutes apiece: Some of Fela’s tunes were extended vamps that often exceeded the 20-minute mark.

Which brings us quite aptly to the album’s declaratory title.

“Ojoro”, argued like a musical advocate before an executioner’s firing squad at Bar Beach, is a mid-tempo manifesto of sorts. Sosimi informs us of his musical persona. It may be said that Dele’s Afrobeat approach is a stylised (and some may say adulterated) version of the extended vamps and no-holds-barred lyricism of Fela, but everything, including Afrobeat, is subject to the laws of evolution. Sosimi stakes his claim for having his own identifiable sound. It’s down to his critical listenership (the real jury) to accept his thesis.

While the political/social justice quotient is always present (finding delightfully kinetic expression on tunes such as “B.B.E.N.Y”, “Local Champion” and “Wahala”) there is an equally personal side to the CD which lends a refreshing uniqueness to this London-resident Nigerian composer/vocalist/keyboardist. The anthemic “E Jus Dey Go” warning its audience not to fritter away precious time, and ”Omo Mo Gba Ti E”, unfolding like the opening gambit in a romantic game of Ayo, provides us with another glimpse of Dele Sosimi’s fertile musical mind.

But lyrical content is best buttressed by a solid instrumental foundation.
The CD stands out in this department: There’s a tremendous wealth in Sosimi’s kinetic and percolating electric keyboard work, Femi Elias’s astonishing skills on electric bass guitar, and the dynamic horn section of trombonist Justin Thurgur, trumpeter Tom Allan, tenor saxophonist Eric Rohner and baritone/alto saxist Rob Leake. The combined percussion of Lekan Babalola and Maurizio Ravalico is as piquant and as delicious as Akara cakes eaten on a cool harmattan night. Not to be forgotten is plectrist Phil Dawson’s stunning riffs.

With Identity, Dele Sosimi tells the world who he is and what he’s about.

It’s OK, dude.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tracks: Ojoro; Ya Hand; B.B.E.N.Y.; Local Champion; I Don Waka; Omo Mo Gba Ti E; E Just Dey Go; Ori Oka; Wahala (Identity Mix).

Personnel: Dele Sosimi: keyboards, lead vocals; Femi Elias: bass; Justin Thurgur: trombone; Phil Dawson: guitar, guitar solo (3); Kunle Olasoju: guitar solo, rhythm guitar (6), backing vocals; Thomas Allan: trumpet, flugelhorn; Eric Rohner: tenor saxophone; Rob Leake: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Kunle Olofinjana: drums, backing vocals; Maurizio Ravalico: congas, shekere, triangle, woodblock; Lekan Babalola: percussion (9); Eki Gbinigie: backing vocals; Biola Dosunmu: backing vocals; Ant I: co-lead vocals (9).