Amongst the wide variety of incredible talent at Battersea Arts Centre’s Borderless, Dele Sosimi stands out. The Nigerian-British musician is one of the pioneering forces in Afrobeat, fusing traditional Nigerian music with funk and jazz for almost forty years.
His career began when he joined Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 as a keyboardist, before taking over control alongside his son Femi Kuti during Fela’s incarceration for political activism. The pair, who had been friends since high school, then established Femi Kuti and the Positive Force in 1986. Dele moved to London in 1995, establishing numerous projects there.
Ahead of his performance at Borderless, Bizarre Culture were lucky enough to catch up with the Afrobeat legend to discuss his experiences of the scene since its beginnings in the eighties.
BC: You’ve been involved in afrobeat for almost forty years now, how do you feel you have developed as an artist over that period?
DS: Growing up in Lagos has kept the foundations grounded in Nigeria, but being based in the UK for the last 20 years has been key to my constant evolution. The exposure local and international musical and cultural influences I have experienced here has informed my composing and arranging styles. I think comparing Gbedu 1, my first released composition, and my three albums (Turbulent Times, Identity and You No Fit Touch Am) demonstrates this better than could be described in words. Of course, this evolution is always continuing.
BC: How do you think the afrobeat scene has changed?
DS: The greatest change I notice is the amount of new Afrobeat bans appearing all over the world with fresh interpretations. The genre has become more widely accepted and is no doubt here to stay. I dared to perform in smaller formats (quartets, quintets and sextets), distinct from the big band sound usually associated with the genre, and I can see the change I initiated having its impact.
Here in the UK, it has become revered, loved, respected and appreciated that many young musicians are learning from and about Afrobeat, with a great increase in demand for Afrobeat masterclasses and workshops. My educational programmes, through my London School of Afrobeat and the Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Foundation, have been met with great enthusiasm. Having performed in Mexico, Bangladesh, India and Morocco amongst many other more familiar locations, I have seen demand for Afrobeat all over the world.
BC: What was it like working with Fela Kuti?
DS: Working with Fela was highly educational, inspiring and thought provoking. It was dignifying. It had its scary moments during the in frequent police raids on Fela’s residence, but it was a dream come true really.
BC: Describe the mentality of the Positive Force.
DS: The music was highly motivated by positive energy. Early compositions addressed issues like illiteracy, drug abuse, racism, xenophobia, war, hunger and corruption, with the belief that changes would be made if the governed and the governors worked together to tackle these issues.
BC: What can we expect from your performance at Borderless?
DS: An unmissable night of innovative, inspiring and highly danceable afrobeat music featuring core members of the Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra performing repertoire drawn for my current Album “You No Fit Touch Am”, plus new compositions being prepared for the next album. Expect to be captivated, entertained and Afrobeaten.
BC: Which other artists on the Borderless lineup are you particularly looking forward to?
DS: All the artists on the line up are great – I would go and see all of them if I could. In particular, I’d strongly recommend Hackney Colliery Band, Family Atlantica, Andrew Ashong and Sons of Kemet.
Listen to the title-track from Dele’s new album below, and get your tickets for his performance at Borderless here.