Photo credit: André Sanches | Some members of Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble pictured in 2014.
Sive Bresnihan looks at how Fela Kuti’s funky mix of musical styles is alive and thriving in Dublin town.
Formed in 2012 and comprising of 15 plus musicians from almost as many countries, Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble is known for its collaborative style, high energy performances and infectious grooves. Recently, the Ensemble gave way to two unique but complementary musical projects, Yankari Afrobeat Collective and Ájo Arkestra. We caught up with Derenik, GP, Rafa, Isra and Yves to talk afrobeat and new directions.
How did you guys get started?
Basically it happened when a group of musicians who were into afrobeat started to get connected. There was James (an Irish musician now living in Brazil), Segun (drums) and Isra (bass) and then others who got on board pretty quickly – GP (trumpet) and Yves (lead vocals). We played together in open mic sessions run by Derenik (trombone) in Smithfield. Gospel, reggae, rock was all going on but what we had in common was that interest in afrobeat. Rafa (guitar) came over from Brazil then – so it was really organic. We didn’t have auditions. It was more like ‘ah you play, come and play here’ and with the good vibe and the good feeling we were all like ‘we want to do this music, it’s special’. That was in 2012.
The original Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble has recently given way to two distinct but complementary musical projects: Yankari Afrobeat collective which focuses more on the pure afrobeat and Ájo Arkestra which blends free flow afrobeat rhythm and heavy dance-floor afro-funk. What binds the two projects together is the afrobeat influence and shared world view and we really hope that our efforts will enhance the development of the afrobeat genre here in Ireland and globally as well.
What’s afrobeat all about?
The main guy behind afrobeat was Fela Kuti, a Nigerian artist who was big in the 70s and 80s. Fela started out being into high life a kind of West African pop and when he went to study music in England in the 60s, began mixing this high life up with jazz. He spent time in America after that. He met his first wife there – she was a ‘black panther’ during the civil rights movement and played a big part in his political radicalisation. After that he went back to Nigeria and began to mix funk (James Brown was big at the time) with jazz and the high life. He met an amazing drummer then called Tony Allen who brought in some type of percussion rhythm that nobody had done before. That’s how afrobeat was born.
You know afrobeat when you hear it – you can’t mix it up with anything else. You need a big band to make it – a lot of brass, percussion, but it’s not just about that. Fela was a mix of music and political attitude and his lyrics were political. There was a lot of political corruption going on in Nigeria at that time and he sang about that as well as other things. The band played out of his club ‘Afrika Shrine’ and you could say he tried to put some consciousness in the people who came to listen. He used to say ‘music is the weapon’.
What’s it like playing afrobeat for crowds here in Ireland?
The rhythm of afrobeat is infectious so people get the richness straight away – the band and the crowd become one very quickly. It’s been like that since the very first gig. Otherwise, we’re playing music which is already a mix of different types of music and we ourselves are a mix of people coming from different places and people respond to that. We think we’ve come up at the right time you know? We kind of represent what Dublin is now – as multicultural a city as you can get in Europe.
Tell us more about the gig you played for anti-racism day on March 21st
Music is one of those things where there are no colours and where everyone can get together and have a good time. You can get a message across pretty smoothly with music. Even if people don’t have the mindset to want it, they can get into the music and the music can convince them. So March 21st was a special gig for us. It was in support of the Anti-Racism Network and organised with Discotekken. Yankari Afrobeat Collective played, plus Ájo Arkestra, Mixtapes from the Underground and others. The vibe was good, the music was good. We like to be part of such things you know. It’s important to us that we stand for stuff that actually matters. Music is the weapon right?