Friday, 12 June 2009

Afrobeat Lecture at Rich Mix with Lemi Ghariokwu, Tony Allen, Dele Sosimi, Rich Medina & Wunmi (10/06/09)

I was lucky enough to hear about and head down to a Q&A session this Wednesday at Rich Mix which was part of the Arts Own Kind "Afrobeat and the Art of Lemi Ghariokwu" exhibition and the Bass Festival. The panel was as high profile as it gets for this genre of music - chaired by Paul Bradshaw (Straight No Chaser), the panelists included; Lemi Ghariokwu, Tony Allen, Dele Sosimi, Rich Medina and Wunmi...

I must admit from the description on the Rich Mix website I was expecting something a little different to what we got - the advertised theme was "exploring the artistic forms of the Afrobeat, and its influence on the wider diaspora". I listen to Afrobeat but don't know about it in any great detail, so I was hoping to learn more about it in that sense and gain a greater musical appreciation. The actual theme ended up being very much focused on the birth and context of the genre, the difficulties artists working within it face, the current perception of it inside and outside of Nigeria, and its future.

The different perspectives on stage were as diverse as the panel, all of whom approached the discussion from a very personal angle, interweaving their stories in to the fabric of the scene and history...Some of the issues touched upon included; the strong association of Afrobeat with Fela and his immediate family as the torchbearers and the difficulty of furthering a movement with such small numbers of key players, the marketing of the genre to the rest of the world - in particular through record labels, the difficulties of being a female performer in a largely male field, working in Afrobeat as a UK based or non-black performer and who decides what is & isn't authentically "African", the effect hip hop is having on young Nigerian artists and the music industry, the struggle to engage young listeners and musicians with the movement who believe it is "old fashioned", how to maintain artistic integrity but still grow and collaborate, and the struggle to find a live music venue in London for a certain bi-monthly event...

I did find it fascinating and a real honour to be in such close proximity with some of my musical heroes, but the disillusionment I hear in conversations from all quarters about the music industry seems to be all-pervasive, and it seems that even in a genre which began at such political and grass roots levels the rapidly changing landscape is hard to navigate.

If you can make it down to the exhibition I would seriously recommend it, Lemi's iconic cover art is truly breathtaking - it's on until 6th July.


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