Friday, February 20, 2009

Afrobeat Rules

Whoa...just 3 weeks and I'll be returning to the US. I have to say I've really adjusted to life here and feel very comfortable in Ghana. It's going to be seriously tough to leave. But that's not to say there still aren't difficulties: due to a dispute between my neighbors, our water was shut off (due to over 8 months of unpaid water bills) so I haven't had running water for maybe 8 days now. And I still regularly meet people "befriend" me on the street, and then want to come visit me at my home, or take me around for a day so I can "learn more about Ghana", or other such things. I have to make up excuses why I don't hang out with strangers. So while I'll be relieved to go (a hot shower is going to be unbelievable), I'll also be very sad to leave my friends and the culture here.

Now I want to brag that I saw Seun Kuti live in concert with members of the Egypt 80 band. If you don't know, Seun Kuti is one of the son's of the legendary late Fela Kuti (whose band was Egypt 80), a Nigerian afrobeat/jazz pioneer who composed hits, played sax, had 27 wives, and made uncompromising political and cultural proclamations in his music putting him in constant trouble with the police. Apparently most of his sons are musicians (they started by playing in his band) who play sax, and Seun Kuti very much modeled his music and vibe after his father. The electricity in the air before it started was palpable...there were so many people packed in to see the show (mostly obrunis). The band entered, and started with a sweet guitar lick, followed by a bari sax solo, and soon the groove was flowing nonstop. The band consisted of about 13 people, with a rhythm section, additional percussion, and 4 horns. Some of the band had t-shirts proclaiming "Afrobeat Rules".

After the first song, Seun Kuti came out accompanied by beautiful women and once again the music was grooving so hard that it was impossible to sit still. Luckily I was able to make my way to the dance floor and let loose for the rest of the concert. I spent lots of time staring open-mouthed two women onstage, because they "shook their booty" to the music with unheard of skill...the sheer physical act seemed to defy the laws of what's possible, and they were able to keep it going for a long time. All in all the concert was crazy fun...not particularly groundbreaking musically but tight, locked in and sweet. I guess I just love to dance to music that grooves hard...Wow. I won't forget that night.

Speaking of dancing, I've gotten better "small small" and now I'm wrapping things up with my teacher. I'm learning some traditional songs that accompany performances of drumming and dancing. And I've been going to a couple of studios in Accra to help people out with keyboard solos and harmonies. A few nights ago myself and two friends were mostly just messing around until we came up with a song that has real potential. I can't reveal too much but we will be finishing it up tomorrow and marketing it to some local radio stations. So I'm hoping before I leave I'm getting radioplay in Ghana...

As I've been in Ghana for some time now, I've really expanded my vision of what I want to achieve as a musician, and loosened things up a bit. In graduate school I experienced a bit of tunnel vision, thinking that I was going to be a "classical art music composer" who could play a little jazz and funk, and was so focused on learning the classical repertoire, and writing music with no words for various combinations of instruments that I couldn't play. But now I realize that I love to sing, I love to dance, and I love to perform. So I want to incorporate all of this into a band that combines some of the diverse music I love. The band should make you want to sing, and dance, and I will be onstage as part of the performance. I don't know how I'm going find the right people and put everything together, but I have a clear vision and that's the most important part.

I'll be taking a week long trip soon, so I'll let you know all about that once I return. Take care.