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Osekre on being the ‘New Fela’ and performing at SummerStage

The Afro-punk performer talks Fela Kuti, aiming for New York’s SummerStage in 2015 and more

He’s the gifted Ghanaian artist and Columbia University alumnus whose take on afro-punk is bold but beautiful because of its blend of different genres including ska, afro-beat and highlife. Osekre and his band The Lucky Bastards (OTLB), have a slew of fans who are demanding that the group perform at New York City’s popular SummerStage festival in 2015.

Apart from SummerStage being a great platform to showcase your music, is there another reason you consider it your “dream gig”? 

[Laughs]I saw Femi Kuti there live and I knew I would have given anything to open for him that day. I am not as excited about playing SummerStage as I am about playing SummerStage for the numerous friends and fans who have asked, for a couple of years now, about why I haven’t played [there].

Especially the African stage.

At a point, you have to explain that there are folks who are responsible for the bookings and sometimes it takes more than everyone thinking you should be playing it to get you to play [the concert]. Trying to involve everyone who wants to see me play demand for it has been exciting to see!

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 How does the great Fela Kuti influence you especially since you’re known as the “New Fela“?

I love the ingenuity in his writing, the direct head-on approach to addressing issues and how he uses genres and melds them into this gorgeous flow of timeless tunes. Take a Fela record today and you can still apply [it] to every bit of our lives globally! [Bob] Marley, Fela, these guys were like prophets.

My initial work wasn’t as pre-meditated but I am happy about the accidents in my work, [which] generated the comparisons that have brought me back to take a closer look at what he did with funk, jazz and highlife as I toy with indie, funk, punk-rock, afro-pop, soukous and highlife!

I salute Fela and all the great legends I am lucky to learn from.

What is the most positive feedback you’ve received about a live performance?

Honestly, [it] can’t get better than the comparisons to Fela [Kuti], K’naan, Gogol Bordello, The Clash. [Laughs]. It’s insanely flattering. I have my work cut out for me. The bar has been set so high, now I gotta stretch to reach it and maybe, just maybe, surpass it? Whoa.

Afro-punk is still a relatively new genre on the continent, how do you feel about African media playing more afro-beat, kwaito and hip-hop music than other genres?

I think it’s going to take a while to get the live music scene back and up in most African countries, especially afro-punk! We still don’t have enough affordable live music venues, and we clearly need a wave of afro-punk bands that speak to the issues that folks care about, strongly enough for it to resonate. I think that is going to happen soon though.

Africans are passionate and are very aware of their politics; afro-punk is all about the everyday, live socio-political issues in the same way reggae and afro-beat [have] been in the past.

What are your 2015 goals in terms of touring, recording, new projects?

I plan on releasing a music video for “Why Are You Here” and “Mama Told Me“.

I am dying to have the folks at “An African City” feature a track in the next round of episodes. To be part of more African-related projects and causes will be dope.

I am definitely ready to record new material, it might be a strong second EP. Assuming the right conditions come up to bang in a full LP, I will do that. I am trying to put as much thought into who I am going to record with, who will produce it and how exactly I want the end product to sound like.

Yes, there will be touring probably very different from the way I have toured in the past.

In 2015, I hope to tour a bit more extensively. The West Coast has been a dream route to tour and hopefully, the South! I might travel light so I can go further working with new and old musicians from New York City, and everywhere on the road. I am talking to my mentors and seeking more advice on how to make it all happen.

What are your thoughts on the Band Aid 30 song? Would you take part in a charity aid song for Africa?

Charity aid songs are cool if the aid reaches those they are meant for, if the lyrics are conscious and if the collaboration is true. Bob Marley has made songs that have impacted nations for generations. They weren’t charity aid songs. There couldn’t be a truer form of writing and purpose to music. I might take part in a cause like that depending on how it’s done, and what the real objectives are. I am always open to helping causes that especially impact Africa positively.

What are your thoughts on the “This Is New Africa” narrative? Do you feel your music fits into that idea?

[Laughs] my genre of music is actually borrowing from the “Old Africa”, Osibisa, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela. So [pause] if that’s creating sounds that fit with the perspective or narrative of “The New Africa” then that’s cool.

I am probably not as concerned about what “The New Africa” narrative might be as I am about our generation contributing our bit to our continent, and to the lives of Africans everywhere. I don’t want people to lose their sense of pride in being African or black.

I want our generation to lead and contribute effectively to shaping the dialogue around the future of Africa, African cities, African economies and African society in general. I want us to participate in conversations about how our cities are designed, our healthcare is improved, how our economies are shaped and even little things we overlook like how our history is recorded and heritage is protected.

I try to borrow from highlife or soukous or afro-beat and tunes I grew up on like, “Jama,” so that my music doesn’t look into the future alone. There is no new without the old so I hope I don’t forget that.

For the T.I.A readers who want to know more about your music, but can only listen to one song today, which one would you say encompasses the spirit of Osekre and The Lucky Bastards?

Everyone loves ‘Mama Told Me”! [However], “Why Are You Here?” encompasses the spirit of OTLB’s because the verse is indie (whatever that means these days), the bridge is afro-pop and the chorus is punk-rock.

I wrote a new song called “Would you”, for instance, which is a fusion of reggae, folk pop and soukous. “Why are You Here” gives that vibe a lot. So it’s definitely the single track that folks should check out to get a sense of what the band is like live.

For more information on the singer, visit Osekre’s website.

 

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