Artist’s paradise Newtown is abuzz on a warm spring day as a few celebrities cascade a man’s vision and from across the road looms a very familiar figure to the jazz cognoscentes in the country at precisely the set time for the appointment to repudiate any vestige of pre madona ideas one could have of him. We exchange greetings and I sit down to listen painstakingly to the story of a prudent musician who was hoodwinked into the country by church folk who said they wanted him to come to the country to lead the music department in their church, so with unbridled alacrity he collected everything he had and tried to salvage enough money to come to South Africa. When he found out that he had been taken for a ride already in the country he did the audacious deed, rather than going back to mommy and daddy to cry foul he stayed. At the age of 24 at the time he would eventually find a place to stay in Yeoville.
Although he does say young people get enchanted by the saprono sax while grown folk’s enticement gravitates more towards the alto sax. With such a plethora of talent it is no wonder he has worked with some of the upper echelons of the South African music industry in the likes of Theo Kgosinkwe, Simphiwe Dana, Pops Mohammad(who he was with on Morning Live a while back), Naledi King, MXO, Sliq Angel, Zubz and Ntsiki Mazwai.
He also improvised the theme song of the soap Rhythm City although he doesn’t get royalties from that even after trying to dispute the matter with SAMRO. Just yet another quintessential story why musician should be pedantic when exhibiting their art anywhere. He isn’t too deterred by the matter anymore as time can be healer plus he reckons when you looking at the bigger picture you shouldn’t allow yourself to be de-motivated by such.
When asked him about his American influences his reply is not the customary Miles Davis,John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. When Coltrane and Bird eventually come up he mentions how he isn’t a big fan of Coltrane because he can’t quite follow the Trane. He also goes on about Wynton Marsalis performance at the Joy of Jazz who he confesses not to have been heavily immersed into before recent times as compared to his brother Branford Marsalis. He admits that the stalwart is quite a splendor to watch and he also talks about his opportunity to woo the crowds in the Joy of Jazz.
Olufemi’s production company Femzee has been busy with a project called Loction Praise which is an instrumental output of cover versions of gospel standards.This project which will be released soon should be a splendor to listen to. This subject raises talks about a live album and he talks on how he wants to be established in the country first before such can materialize, this then leads to tete a tete about rigid jazz labels and definitions especially because of the freshness of the Joy of Jazz and Wynton Marsalis criticism of Miles Davis’ latter work.
“Music is past labeling” is Femi’s sentiment and he reckons musicians should find a way to balance their musicianship and what the people want to hear when doing fusion so young people can also be drawn into listening to Jazz and Afrobeat which seem to have been usurped by Hip Hop and other “hipper” genres. This brings about talk on how the Jay-z and Fela Kuti collaboration brought Fela to the attention of many youngsters and Hip Hop fans who wouldn’t have otherwise known him. Femi also talks of how the Nigerian market only caters for Hip Hop and talks of collaborations with rappers. Femi reckons Zubz is a quintessential rapper and fortunately he has worked with him in live shows and he will be one of the features in Femi’s next album. He also talks about Tumi as another good rapper who he would like to collaborate with.
This satiation to amalgamate genres is the core ingredient to his music and a big reason as to why it is touted as World South West Fusion. This entails a cocktail of genres from different parts of the world including Mbaqanga & Maskandi(South Africa), High-Life (Ghana), Afrobeat (Nigeria) & Jazz. Femi’s face lights up when he talks about fusing music and how musicians especially jazz musos should not try to be too complex and meet non jazz lovers half way so as to have appeal to a bigger audience. He feels that certain musicians fail to enchant listeners by bombarding them with depth where as they could just be fairly simple and try to gradually introduce themselves to people. He also stresses how it is important to not to just be a musician’s musician as some musicians are.
Olufemi finds Newtown as an inspiration to him as an artist and on his debut album he has a song dedicated to the place ‘Newtown Funk’. His debut album is a reflection of his time in the country from 2006 and his coming of age. The book ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho also inspires him daily. Then we get to the probably one of the core inspirations to his music Fela Kuti and he goes deeper than that to tell me about a big influence to his career as well founder of Afrobeat Orlando Julius.
Apart from these two giants of Afrobeat he cites his brother as a big protagonist to what he is now. His brother who is a conductor in the Atlanta Afrobeat Orchestra bought him his first trumpet. This is one of the memories etched in his mind about his hometown Akio Town. People didn’t believe him when he said he wanted to do music and it took a while for them to realise how serious he was however as in many African stories football was a part of this life and music usurped the sport in this instance.
Femi admits to getting nostalgic at times and misses the food from back home but if music be the food of the soul then this man is a soulful glutton to absorb all he has to be able to produce something as majestic as his music.