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root salad f16 Dele Sosimi

The Afrobeat veteran is still going strong. Francis Gooding makes a home call.


n a cramped top floor flat jam-packed with instruments, audio equipment and records, veteran Afrobeat key- boardist and bandleader Dele Sosimi

is thinking through the problems attendant on moving his long-running club night, Afrobeat Vibration, from its Dalston home to a new venue in Hackney. With a new sin- gle, E Go Betta, about to drop, and Dele’s new album You No Fit Touch Am still gar- nering interest, he’s concerned to lose nei- ther momentum nor crowd numbers.

“Since we moved, its hard to get people to follow you,” he reflects. “They have to get used to the new venue, then get used to the new timings” – something of an issue, as the club’s former home had a 4am license. “The bulk of our audience used to turn up between 2 and 3am, to catch that last hour,” he recalls. “Mostly Nigerians!” interjects DJ Koichi Sakai, Afrobeat Vibration’s regular DJ, to laughter from Dele. “My people!” he agrees. “That’s when they turn up!”

But with the general popularity of Afrobeat still in the ascendant, the club has never been more vibrant, so they have little need to worry. And while Koichi’s record selection is always top-drawer, Afrobeat Vibration’s reputation as one of London’s finest underground club nights has been burnished by the fact that it is chiefly an extended residency for Sosimi’s now extremely well-drilled band.

The keyboardist has long been a respected fixture on the London scene, but there’s a deeper principle at work, for Sosi- mi is a true Afrobeat veteran. For many years he was musical director of Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 band, and memories of his time playing at the Shrine, Fela’s legendary Lagos nightclub, are key to shaping his sense of how a strong residency can pro- vide new opportunities for his music to expand. “That’s how I was brought up. You have to have a place you can call home, where you evolve with the team, and where you evolve with the music. The more we play together, the more we evolve, the more the music itself starts to take a new persona or identity. There is always spice, and you never know who is coming,” he says, recalling impromptu appearances by luminaries such as drum- mer Tony Allen and percussionist Chiekh Tidiane Fall, as well as one night when the whole Egypt 80 band showed up. “They didn't want to get off stage! It was like ‘We’re back home!’”

Consistency, says Dele, was “one of the

secrets of Fela’s success. Fela had his own home [the Shrine], and he held themed nights, four times a week – Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday – 50 weeks a year. That was very consistent. The only time that would break was if he had to go to Europe on tour, which was very rare in the ’70s.”


s a young musician, Sosimi served a long apprenticeship under Fela’s wing, having been introduced after striking up a musical friendship

with Femi Kuti, Fela’s saxophonist son. There was instant chemistry between Femi and himself, he recalls: “The minute we met we were both like ‘woah, yes, bring your sax, I’ll sit down on piano’. Before I knew it I’d been introduced to Fela.”

When Femi was moved to Dele’s school, Fela provided musical equipment. “It was automatic that [Femi] joined the school band, and because he was in the band, Fela used to give us a roadie and a backline to go and play functions… we played all over the place, and he used to transport the stuff for us.”

When Femi left to join his father’s band, Sosimi was kept in school. But he attended the Shrine regularly, and began to work his way into the band, all the time watching Fela closely. “I’d sit in at the Shrine on one or two tracks and take a solo here and there. I tried not to miss a night. I grew to learn most of the songs, I used to listen very attentively to his rehearsals [and] while he was writing and composing new songs… I personally went and deconstructed his songs, and reconstructed them myself. It wasn't long before I become the musical director in the band.”

The experience equipped him with a practical knowledge of Afrobeat that was second to none, and after being director for the Egypt 80, he began to work with Femi Kuti’s Positive Force. And so when the time came to lead his own bands, Sosimi had a wealth of experience on which to draw when fashioning his own contribu- tions to the music.

His latest transmission, You Not Fit

Touch Am, released earlier this year on WahWah45s records, is a finely calibrated rocket of funky and politicised Afrobeat, sent straight from the source. It comes near- ly a decade after his last album, 2007’s Iden- tity, but Sosimi says the wait was necessary for things to be just right: “I’ve got songs that have been written since 1997, ’98, ’99, But they are just sitting, waiting for me to come back to them. With this album, most of the songs – they are old songs. We all know that most serious writers are very crit- ical of their work – no matter how many times we record and re-record, we are never satisfied with the end result. But now, lis- tening to the album I’m like ‘goddamn!’ I’m having eureka moment.”

In Afrobeat as in everything else, prac- tice, it seems, makes perfect. F

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