Interview: Q&A with Dele Sosimi – “Dance Together” with an Afrobeat Torchbearer (December 2017)

Fans of afrobeat must not miss Afrobeat Vibration’s 9th anniversary, which takes place at the Jazz Café on December 15th.  Ahead of this celebration, Rhythm Passport caught up with Fela Kuti’s former keyboard player and Afrobeat Vibration’s founder, Dele Sosimi, for a brief chat.

Rhythm Passport: When you left Fela and Egypt 80, what was the motivation to spread your wings? Did you feel unable to fully express your musical self?

Dele Sosimi: Not exactly. It was actually in protest to try and address some issues of concern. Alongside Femi Kuti, I had been directing and arranging for the Egypt 80 whilst Fela was incarcerated. Performances at the Shrine were four times a week, 50 weeks a year. I definitely had a great time learning, so expressing my musical self was never a challenge.

RP: I’ve likened Fela to two other musical giants – Miles Davis and James Brown – in terms of his influence within a genre. Was he a hard taskmaster? A disciplinarian?

DS: He knew what he was doing and he made it plain and simple and easy enough for every member of his band to deal with their workload. So, yes, he was a taskmaster. Many times, he would have to come down hard on members who would forget parts or make repeated mistakes, sometimes imposing heavy fines.

RP: What prompted your split from Femi and your move to London? Why London?

DS: It wasn’t a split, as such. I initially came to London for a short holiday with my family, which has extended now, and London because I was born there and my family was there.

RP: Do you see (or feel) a similar sense of satisfaction with both playing music to a large crowd and to teaching students, in that both could be deemed as educational and giving of yourself? Or are they very different?

DS: Similar, to an extent, as you put it. With teaching, there is more one-on-one interaction, direct feedback exchanges, questions and answers etc., hence the degrees or levels of satisfaction vary.

Live performance is usually pretty much straightforward with things like audience sing-along, chants for certain songs, an encore post-performance, or a long line of fans waiting for autographs with CDs or vinyl to be signed.

RP: Before signing with Wah Wah 45s, were you searching for a new home for your music? How did you guys connect? 

DS: I initially found a home in the New Empowering Church where we were hosting our marathon live Afrobeat Vibration sessions bi-monthly. The event “Afrobeat Vibration” was where I could further develop and evolve my Afrobeat sound and performance with my team of musicians, whilst keeping Afrobeat alive and, most importantly, accessible, somewhat akin to Fela’s Shrine where he performed four times a week for 50 weeks of the year.

When the owner’s lease expired at the New Empowering Church, we moved to Shapes in Hackney, and then later to the Forge in Camden. The Jazz Café will be hosting our 9th Year anniversary on Friday the 15th of December.

Meeting with Wah Wah 45s came via a radio interview with Dom Servini (their A&R person), which is a story for my memoirs in the not too distant future.

RP: How do you feel about the exposure of your music on Wah Wah 45s, particularly with regards to the remix work done, on the likes of Sanctuary? Has it helped to raise your profile? Do you feel busier now?

DS: Well, look at the facts: four 12″ vinyl releases of “You No Fit Touch Am”: Original, Retouched, Retouched 2 and Prince Fatty/Nostalgia 77 Dub version. It certainly has got me a lot of attention and interest over the two years plus. I certainly am busier with the range of things that I do.

RP: Would you describe yourself as a workaholic? 

DS: Not at all. I feel when it comes to working, I am a long-distance person provided it engages me on enough levels; thereby, I am all-in and can put in the long hours.

RP: Max Reinhardt has described your music as: “the most fluent afrobeat you are going to hear today”. Do you think this also means that your music is more coherent and accessible to a wider audience than some earlier Afrobeat?

DS: Max did…. bless him. He said that about twelve years ago. I certainly hope so!!

RP: I understand that you are currently working on a new album, due for release in a year or so. Is there anything you can tell us about that new work? Are you as excited about this album as previous work?

DS: It will, as usual, push the boundaries of afrobeat, which makes it exciting.

RP: As a child, growing up in Nigeria, who or what were you formative musical influences? 

DS: It was a combination of local Apala, Waka, highlife, juju and jazz.