Interview: Siggi Mwasote – Lakuta (March 2017)

They’re provocative, refreshing and as their Swahili name suggests, they love to reach people, connect with them and share their conscious, radiant music.

And, on the 28th of April, they will visit London for Rhythm Passport’s second event happening at Rich Mix. So, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the energising drive of Brightonian act Lakuta.

But, before that, you can enjoy the chat we had with Siggi Mwasote, magnetic front-woman and vocalist of the band. We met her a few days ago, hours before Lakuta’s Jazz Café gig supporting the soul outfit from Houston The Suffers, we drank a coffee together and learnt more about her band, the Brighton music scene and what music means to her.

Today, Siggi is the voice and face of Lakuta, playing key roles in everything, from interacting with the audience when on stage to appearing on flyers and promo material. However, when the Lakuta story began, she was not even a part of it.

If you want to know the beginning of the story, you’d better ask Cicely Taylor [whom we interviewed a few months ago], because she started the band 9 years ago. She just wanted to play music with her friends. She used to rehearse in her house and then, the band got bigger and bigger. At one point, the band had 22 people! It was ridiculous! There were FOUR trombones!

I joined the band little less than 9 years ago. I used to work with Cicely since we’re both teachers and we both worked in the same school. So, she invited me to join the band and I initially said no. Actually, I said no a lot of times. I have a 13-year-old daughter and she was too young at that time. But then, they started to rehearse in the afternoons, so I could bring my daughter with me. And she liked the band so much, that she gave me permission to join!

So yes, the idea of the project comes from Cicely’s love for African and Latin music. She’s well studied in all of that. While I’m just African and not well-studied at all. My roots are half Kenyan and half Tanzanian, but I was born here in London. After 9 years we changed the formation a few times. It just got bigger, with some changes in the line-up. But we’re kind of there now”.

As Siggi said, also the band’s sound and its development were initially ideas which came from Cicely.

“Cissie [Cicely] was playing a lot of Latin music at that time (she’s still playing it) and formed a samba band. She used to work in really big environment with musicians. While my background is more related to jazz. I sang with a jazz band for a while and had my jazz trio for a little bit. Then, I sung in cover bands, but I never worked in this kind of environment. So it was all brand new for me.

When I first got on board I was terrified! I couldn’t believe there could be so many people playing together in a room and what’s more, all of them were playing beautifully! But yes, I think in the end it’s all about Cicely, because she really likes people and we are all in this kind of family environment, with this close interaction between so many different instruments and sections. That’s something I’ve grown to love!

Listening to Siggi’s words and to the band on stage, it’s quite clear that Lakuta are a shared project. Every musician forms an integral part of it and cares about every step of its evolution.

Everybody is bringing something to the project. Cissie is one of the principle songwriters, but Deen [Lim, bass player and DJ] writes songs too and I also wrote lyrics for a couple of tunes. The way we work is everyone who comes with an idea, we just kind of develop it as a band. In this way all the songs are kind of Lakuta’s songs. Because even though I might have written the lyrics for a tune, just by the way the lyrics relate to something that another instrument is doing, that turns what I’ve written into something else. So I’d call them all Lakuta’s songs”.

However, Lakuta’s finest habitat is on stage. When on stage, the sound of the band is indeed able to blow you away without a hitch and fully express its intensity.

“We always want to play as a 10-piece because that’s our optimum sound. Sometimes, we go out in smaller formations, like little sound systems with me at the vocals, horn player, DJ and Cissie at percussion. Sometimes we go out as a smaller version of Lakuta too. But the smallest is eight-piece because all the elements are equally important. We’re not just a bunch of people! Each instrument is equally important in the sound of the band, so when something is missing, it is really missing. That’s why we always try to make sure that everyone is available to do it, really”.

Despite some of the band’s members being based in, or originating from London (like Siggi), Lakuta are quintessentially “Brightonians”: sunny, smiling and accessible, much like the city’s music scene.

“I suppose the Brighton music scene is huge considering the size of the city. I’m a born-and-bred Londoner, so I’m kind of getting more used now than I was when I moved there. But, it is such a wide scene that you can have all the genres represented. Because Brighton is so small, almost all the musicians know each other. So it might be that, even if we, as Lakuta play afrobeat, there are some members of the band who play rock with other people and others who play jazz with some other people again. For sure, Brighton is not like London, because we don’t feel in competition with each other. We just feel like roommates: For example, when we are doing gigs, other musicians want to come as guests. It is just a really relaxed atmosphere and people are always open to invite you to do things. It is a really nice and friendly environment”.

Lakuta’s music is meant to be shared and spread wherever the band travels. Not just because of the welcoming and extrovert attitude of the musicians, but also because of the sociable attitude of the style in which they play. That’s why, even when they perform outside their hometown, Lakuta always feel at home.

“I love to play this music. I simply love it! It’s really fun to introduce people to a style of music that they’re not used to hearing. As much as there’s a big afrobeat scene in Britain, I think that in the great scheme of music, afrobeat is still quite excluded. So, to be able to play something new to people and introduce them to something that they’ve never heard before, it’s a great feeling! Then, if you add the fact that the reactions we got have always been positive, that makes me think ‘oh… I want to go and play our music somewhere else too. I want to go to the Hebrides for example: somewhere where there only 12 people and maybe the band are bigger than the population living there!’ That would be really fun!”

The opportunity to play all over the UK came a few months ago, thanks to the release of their first album titled Brothers & Sisters (released by Brighton-based eclectic label Tru Thoughts) and if you haven’t enjoyed one of their gigs yet, you shouldn’t have to wait too long before they come to play in your city.

We published Brothers & Sisters on the 12th of August last year. Initially, there was a good reaction. We played on BBC Radio 6 and Radio 2. Actually, all kinds of radio stations liked it. Then, there were a lot of good reviews, for example from the Guardian and Independent, which was really lovely and surprising for us. I think that it was received really well, even if it was kind of released at a weird time. It came out in September and we kind of missed all the festivals. We had a few gigs around Christmas time, but we kind of missed all the big appointments. If we had released it in February, then the momentum would have been better. So, what ‘s happening now is… We released the album in September, we did a few gigs, then Christmas happened and now it’s almost like Spring is happening, the momentum is starting again. We have a lot of gigs in the next few months and people are finally starting to really get into the album!

As a matter of fact, it’s quite easy to be infected by Brothers & Sisters and its contagious sound. But, as Siggi specifies, Lakuta’s essence is not only expressed in their enjoyable music, but also their relevant lyrics.

“Music is the best way to move people. One of the things that I say to the audience is that we write really important lyrics with really happy music. So, in that way, people who are listening to us are going ‘wow, we like the sound!’ Then, when they listen to the lyrics, they also realise the important messages we send. I think this is the best way to send political messages, to play them with some beautiful music, so people can remember them.

For example, “Bata Boy” is about very serious issues like female genital mutilation and homophobia. They are really important subjects and I don’t think we could get the same positive reaction if I was just writing a paper or an article about them. I don’t think people would listen as much in that way, but if you surround those subjects with music and there are certain chants on it, you can get the audience to contribute and repeat them. That’s the best way to do it. Try to imagine if all politicians would add basslines behind half of the stuff they say! I think that there would be more people who would vote and become interested in politics to be honest”.

Lakuta are one of the best embodiments of inclusiveness in music. That’s not only epitomised by their cultural influences, but also personified by the members of the band, their origins and, first of all, genders. As we unfortunately know, music is one of the fields where gender equality is a mirage, luckily there are some established, order-defying bands showing that another way is possible.

At the moment, we are three women Lakuta, and the female influence in the band is really strong. We are in a very equal environment, in which we don’t have to bang, scream and shout that we are women, because musically we’re all on the same level. But I think in the outside world, that’s quite a novelty. You are used to having a female singer and that’s it. Sadly, it’s always like that. So, to have a baritone sax player and a percussionist who are women, that’s really unusual. That’s quite a unique selling point. For example, Cissie is really ladylike. But once she goes on stage and plays drums like a geezer, she really shocks people and makes them want to see us even more. Because that’s not something they’re used to seeing.

I think it’s really like an affirmation that ‘I’m a woman and now you got to listen to me’. I was at the International Women’s Day march some days ago, but as a band we don’t do that sort of thing: our music speaks for itself. It’s not about gender in our case; it’s about our relationship, how we feel about things and how we write the songs that we do”.

The coffee we started to drink half an hour before, was already cold and the sound check for their Jazz Café gig was imminent. So, we brought the interview to an end asking Siggi the fateful question: how would you introduce Lakuta in a few words?

We are really nice, actually we are lovely [laughs]. We’re passionate and enthusiastic, very committed to the music that we make and the words that we write. We just want everyone who comes to our gigs to have a good time.

If everyone who comes out has a good time, and on the bus home, they think about what they’ve heard and lyrics they’ve listened to, that means that we have reached our goal. Then, if through the experience they have lived, listening to our music and buying our album, they may want to go and do their own research and find their own learning about the subjects they are interested in, that means that we have succeeded, we have planted a new seed. Our music is just about planting seeds”.

Lakuta aim to plant many new seeds during their gig on the 28th of April at Rich Mix in London, which will also see on stage Family Atlantica Duo, Native Sun and DJ Pete from On the Corner Records on the decks, they’ve something special in store:

We already have three songs ready for the new album and we play them live. So hopefully by the end of the summer season we will know more about our next release, we have also started recording a new single called “Afro Mama”. We have already recorded the backline and we just need a few more backing vocals, then it’s going to be ready and that’s very, very exciting!”

We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait for the 28th, with our dancing shoes on and open ears.


You can still buy your ticket for the gig following this LINK

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