Mercury prize winners Ezra Collective: ‘A bassline and drumbeat puts everyone on the same page’

As the genre-hopping London group visit Lagos – the home of Afrobeat – ahead of a Royal Albert Hall gig, bandleader Femi Koleoso explains how music can create positive social change amid poverty and youth violence

Lagos is a pulsing mass of infectious energy. Densely packed houses stretch to the horizon below a visible halo of pollution. The streets are busy at all hours, with people eating, drinking, talking, getting haircuts and buying and selling anything and everything. Nigeria’s biggest city is complex, diverse and unequal, but all over it, the same music vibrates: at any hour, the world-conquering sound of Afrobeats pours out of cars, bars, windows and parks.

In the northern suburb of Ikeja, tucked away amid warehouses and factories, is the home of that sound, the New Afrika Shrine. This cavernous auditorium, with its corrugated metal roof and walls drained of their colour by years of humidity, is a reincarnation of the musical home of Fela Kuti, whose Afrobeat style – defined in part by the polyrhythmic drumming of Tony Allen – pointed the way to today’s Afrobeats sound. Although he died in 1997, Kuti’s life and influence are celebrated with Felabration, an annual week-long festival of music, art and politics.

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