Interview: Savouring the Soup
with Bukky Leo (March 2024)

Words by Lucas Keen / Photos by Sandra Polo

Afrobeat is a dish best served hot, as anyone lucky enough to catch Bukky Leo‘s recent sold-out show at Ronnie Scott’s, where he played his new album Sweet Soup, can attest.

Just a few days ago, Lucas Keen had the opportunity of speaking with one of the hardest-working men in afrobeat to talk about food, collaboration, and his new album OBEDUN (Sweet Soup).

“Everyone was on their feet dancing, which never happens at Ronnie’s, it’s not known for that!” chuckles the saxophonist and bandleader when we spoke to discuss his clubby new album featuring remixes by Gilles Peterson and Dennis Bovell and released on Drift Recordings digitally and on vinyl on the 16th of February.

Named in homage to one of Bukky’s favourite dishes, the music on the album comprises new compositions and remixes and is intended to replicate “the sweet sensation and pleasure you experience” from the titular soup which Bukky points out, finds its pan-African equivalents across the continent from Kenkey in Ghana, to plantain and cassava – a group of carbohydrate swallow foods as heavy as the afrobeat grooves on the new record.    

“With sweet soup we do away with cutlery” he instructs “You just need a bowl, soap and water to wash your hands, and you mould the pounded yam and dip it in the soup”

Seasoning is important though, and on Obedun this comes care of a brigade including Gilles Peterson who remixes “Scelleton” and Dennis Bovell who reimagines “Annarkey.” 

Both long-term collaborators (Bukky’s association with Peterson began on the legendary Acid Jazz label which released his Rejoice in Righteousness) the saxophonist was able to trust his friends with sending a great dish out and says “I know their capabilities, so I gave them free rein.”  

So trusted with enhancing the music, both turn out floor filling workouts pairing afrobeat with house (in Petersons case) and with dub in the case of Bovell. 

Featuring grooves reminiscent of his late friend Tony Allen (who gave Bukky one of his early breaks) alongside that immediately recognisable saxophone, and lyrics in Yoruba which are both sung and spoken, Obedun simmers away like a pot of said soup.

Much like Bukky’s exploration of the Afrofuturism of William Onyeabor (a much loved fixture at The Jazz Cafe) Sweet Soup is forward looking music but also music that knows where it comes from.  

“There’s nothing more up to date than afrobeat! it’s always been ahead of its time” he reminds, before we chat about a number of parallel projects Bukky has on the stove.

These include providing music for the documentary film My Friend Lanre about the life and times of photojournalist Lanre Fehintola, and live shows with his mighty band Black Egypt for both the new album and his late friend Fela Kuti’s birthday. 

“Afrobeat gives you confidence to move forward” concludes the affable custodian of afrobeat, before we polish off a chat as enjoyable and nourishing as the culinary inspiration for his new album.


Bukky Leo's latest EP, OBEDUN (Sweet Soup), is now available from Drift Recordings.
Listen and get your copy HERE



Photos ©: Sandra Polo