Exclusive: Sola Akingbola speaks with Afritorial.com and takes us through his solo debut EP from his new live project ‘Critical Mass’.

sola 1 It’s clear Sola Akingbola is one busy man – while in the throes of launching his new EP song ‘Gen Vex’, he’s responding to our interview qs, plus mastering songs in the studio sans an engineer whose down with flu.

C’est la vie for the man normally known as  Jamiroquai’s percussionist, a band member of the globally renowned multi-million album selling Acid-Jazz Funk band. Sola, along with drummer, Derrick Mckenzie, produced the groove chemistry that has rocked the last five albums.

I’m a huge Jamiroquai fan – ‘Seven Days in Sunny June’ and ‘You Give me Something’ are two of my favourite tracks of all time, so to interview the man integral to the Jamiroquai sound is pretty rad.

It was Derrick McKenzie who first got Sola the Jamiroquai gig: Derrick had been given the task of finding a new percussionist, and he had three names on his short list. Which one to call first? Intrigued by Sola’s unique name, and needing someone who could immediately step up and fill the percussionist post for a TV show in Paris called Taratata, Derrick picked up the phone and dialled.

When Derrick made that call, Sola had just completed an intense eight-month world tour with the then up-and-coming Jazz guitarist, Ronny Jordan soon after recording two albums with Ronny – ‘A Quiet Storm’ and ‘Light to Dark’ – and contributing two compositions to the latter. Sola thought he was looking forward to a well-earned rest and instead, was caught up for the next ten years in the whirlwind global success of Jamiroquai.

Now taking centre-stage as lead singer, Sola is focused on CRITICAL MASS, a funky roots solo debut project with a hard, futuristic edge.

We caught with Sola in London and drilled him on his background as well as his inspiration for music. These are his musings:

WHY MUSIC?

sola 2Music is the medium of expression in which I am most comfortable. It is through music that I am able to confidently engage with other disciplines. My musical experience is the foundation from which I can explore the world – externally and internally. As a child, growing up in a Yoruba household, there was always a strong emphasis on aspiring to the conventional professions, – medicine, law and banking – but, for me, encountering the work and life-projects of mavericks, like Wole Soyinka and Fela Anikulapo Kuti, I found the strength to follow a less well-trodden path – to music.

WHAT /WHO WERE YOU LISTENING TO WHEN YOU WERE A KID?

The first music I remember listening to and having a freak out to at home, was King Sunny Ade. What I felt strongly were the ‘talking drummers’. I now appreciate that their sense of groove, timing and swing were impeccable and inextricably linked to the Yoruba language. I have been an addict for talking drummers ever since. By the time I started secondary school, James Brown’s Body Heat was the track I would play and dance to everyday with my best friend at the time, Mark Adams – a very funky English boy from the East End of London. I then discovered the music of Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango and the rare grooves of black American music with bands like Mandrill and Side Effect, and this led me to become preoccupied with what a funky fusion of all these styles might sound like.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR JAMIROQUAI YEARS:

sola jamiroquaiI have been a member of Jamiroquai since 1997. The most exciting period for me was from 1997 to 1999. This was the time when the band leapt to international superstardom and world tours followed. I never thought I would get to see the world in such an amazing manner, and be treated like a star, because of music. It was a giant step for me as a musician, because to join Jamiroquai I had to make the decision to leave an incredible musical force, which was the band working with jazz musician, the late Ronny Jordan. In this band I had been put through my paces and honed my skills as a percussionist. Ronny stretched me in a way that stood me in good stead for the challenge that is Jamiroquai. Jamiroquai gives me the freedom to express myself as a percussionist and has been inseparable from the development of identity as a musician.

WHY THIS EP AND WHY NOW?

The EP is introducing Critical Mass as a live Afro-UK band to the music industry and public. The three songs on the EP, of which Generation Vex is the first, give a taster of our funkyroots, afrobeat sound.

Why now? People all over the world, and especially young people, are starting to question and resist the injustice of societies based on a taken for granted status quo. Using new technology and social media, everyone has an opportunity to express their frustration, which has had a powerful democratizing effect. The EP is drawing on this inter-generational tension and the current post-financial-crisis mood for change. On a personal level, I feel that I have now found my voice and I am ready to stretch my creative muscles whilst being more engaged with these tectonic shifts happening in the world.

WHY GENERATION VEX? WHAT’S THE PERSONAL AND CULTURAL RELEVANCE?

Throughout history there have always been people willing to make extreme sacrifices in order to resist, challenge and change the abuse of power. They are pushing at the boundaries of what is possible and what is acceptable in the world. The term ‘Generation Vex’ expresses the constant tension that is present in every society: After the 2011 UK riots, I was inspired by provocative conversations with Social Anthropologist, Dr Gillian Evans, whose fieldwork contributed to debates about the anger, resentment and sense of abandonment felt amongst young people in the post-industrial cities of Britain. This led me to acknowledge the frustration of young people in Britain and to try to express my reaction in music, and, hopefully, to provoke others to do the same.

I also came across the work of photographer Robert Capa, who was credited with coining the term Generation X to refer to the Post World War II youth who were speaking out against social constraint for the first time. I also remember the punk band Generation X, led by Billy Idol, who I thought was dazzling with his rebellious attitude and silver blond punk hairstyle.

The word Vex was a term I used to hear a lot as a teenager in London, used by my Jamaican friends at school. In West African pidgin style I would often hear the phrase ‘man dey vex o!’

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF PERCUSSION BASED MUSIC?

The future for percussion-focused music looks very positive when seen outside of the mainstream. There are so many percussion festivals around the world, and I think there is a growing appetite for percussion-based music. Mainstream music heavily emphasises rhythm, however percussion is still an appendage, which I think has a lot to do with cultural misunderstanding and a lack of serious visual or sonic representation in Europe. In Latin America, of course, they don’t have that problem – percussion is at the heart of everything they do. Using Critical Mass, I want to give the image of percussion a makeover: show that it is possible for percussion and percussionists to be cutting-edge and funky.

As a percussionist, I approach composition from a different perspective and as a Yoruba, I am unable to make a distinction between rhythm and melody – I do not hear one without the other.  This too, is a radical idea in this part of the world, that songs could be composed from a rhythmic, groove-led starting point.

TELL US ABOUT THE AFRICAN INSPIRATION ON THE TRACK:

sola EPI wanted to draw on some familiar Yoruba cultural elements to give the song an interesting philosophical tone (Sola brings a synthesis of his Nigerian – Yoruba ancestry to all his work, as well as his London experience and immersion in Afro-Beat, Latin Jazz and the grooves of Black American music).

In order to do this, I delved into the philosophical perspective of the Yorubas, pre –Christianity and Islam. This enabled me to discover the early Yoruba philosophers and intellectuals, whose proverbs I feature in the songs. In 2008 I took a journey to Ile –Ife, in Yoruba land, where I had the pleasure of experiencing the poetic recitations of some elderly diviners. What I heard in these men’s spiritual orations, was the percussive and melodic incantations that I also hear in jazz music – Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. I was keen to produce my musical interpretation of the experience.

By intertwining Yoruba with English in the lyrics, I am paying homage to the beauty of a mixed cultural heritage.

WHAT ARE YOUR INFLUENCES TODAY?

At the moment, I am interested in people in any field of work, who are not afraid to push the boundaries. Grayson Perry, Yinka Shonibare , The Coen Brothers, Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci  and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, are just a few examples of artists whose contribution to cultural conversation, I admire. In the music industry, I respect Jay Z and Kanye’s efforts to keep the link between the past and the present alive, through sampling, and combining apparently disparate genres.

SOLA’S MESSAGE TO ASPIRING MUSICIANS:

As Malcolm Gladwell states, put in your 10,000 hours – practice makes perfect. Listen to as much as possible, and always be willing to learn. Keep studying and maintain that hunger.

GENERATION VEX:

Written by Sola and social anthropologist Gillian Evans, the song  is a hard edged, funky roots response to the angry voice of a new generation of global youth. Listening to Generation Vex you’ll find a heady, mildy angry yet strongly moving musical arrnagement laced with a healthy dose of synths and twisted guitars. The song melds stylistic and tempo shifts, which according to Sola, reflect the diverse influences brought to the group by its members and the discordant times in which we live.

“We want to reflect the schizophrenic way we live now, where thousands of aggravated voices can cry out all at once. Those voices may speak in many languages, but they’re all expressing the same thing. We hope we’ve created something people will really connect with.”

Generation Vex will be released through Hip Sync Records on 3rd March ahead of a planned EP launch by Critical Mass in April. The Youtube clip is below for your viewing pleasure.

Nice work Sola – Forget the Return of the ‘Space Cowboy’, this is the Crowning of Percussion’s ‘Zietgiest Don’!

www.hipsyncrecords.com

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Afritorial

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