Q&A with West African musician Adedeji Adetayo, traditional African music with a progressive attitude and modern sound of jazz, funk and soul

"My fear Is how kids are exposed to some much vain music now and giving that this artist become rich and they become the definition of what a successful artist is, now that’s a big problem. I think ices not a coincidence though!"

Adedeji Adetayo: Yoruba Odyssey

Adedeji Adetayo is a prolific singer, guitarist and composer, born and raised in the vibrant city of Lagos, Nigeria (West Africa). Adedeji’s music is an infusion of Traditional African music with a progressive attitude and modern sound of jazz, funk and soul music, creating music that is rhythmically and technically sophisticated, harmonically rich, and melodically compelling. Among his evident influences are George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, King Sunny Ade, and Fela Kuti. Adedeji’s 3rd studio album “Yoruba Odyssey” (One World Records, 2022) is a project that goes back to the core of his roots, the album was recorded at the legendary Afrodisia/Decca Studio in Lagos, that housed the likes of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. The lyrics sung in the groovy Languages of Yoruba and Pidgin English are reigniting with the traditional identity of Yoruba Culture.                              (Adedeji Adetayo / Photo by Carolina Vallejo)

Authentic and personal Ideas with tremendous harmonies and Arrangements in fast and furry compositions by a masterful guitarist and singer and energetic and enlightened band. The result is a progressive Jazz funk Record, Influenced with the Vintage Afrobeat and Yoruba eclectic sounds, that reflects Adedeji’s growing up in the metropolitan city of Lagos. If you love James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Prince, George Benson and of course Fela, you are most likely to love Adedeji. His musical CV includes performing with the NNO orchestra, Lionel Loueke, JD Walter, Femi Temowo, Gene Jackson, Ruben Hein, Lagbaja, Ayo Bankole, Steve Rhodes Orchestra, Salvador Shango and many more.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Jazz and African Music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Giving that Jazz Music in its true essence is about ”Freedom” this in my opinion is also a very important aspect African music, a music that could also be free of rules (to an extent) though first you have to learn the rules then you can break them .. this has been a part that I have taken and still take in life in search of freedom and rules I can ”break” especially when it comes to music.. the other side of this would be the influence that each music has on the world it’s not a coincidence that the biggest part of Jazz music comes from Africa. It also makes the world seem a bit smaller, meaning if you understand Jazz music to an extent and know a few tunes you could go to any part of the world and meet new cats and jam... that II be communal spirit that is also a big part of Africans life. These simple things have influenced how I interact with musicians and artist and even view the world ... This 2 music as also taking me to different part of the world, and it doesn’t matter if they understand the language this makes me see the world differently music is truly a universal language. So live held unto those 2 genres and every music that’s developed around this, in essence has influenced me as a person and as a musician and that has helped me navigate the world.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook?

Hmm this is always a difficult one for me to answer ... but I’ll try to answer it somehow, my sound is a combination of music I grew up with, the music I have been exposed to along the way. Although I still find myself going back to the music I grew up with more, only this time with a better understanding of western music as well... Growing up, my father had a slightly different taste of music from my mother, So his Vinyl collections goes from Marvin Gaye to James Brown, From G.F Handel’s Messiah to Fela Kuti, from Don Williams to King Sunny Ade or Haruna Ishola and other more traditional music my mother on the other hand, listens mostly to more traditional influenced music , also she comes from a particular part of Yoruba sub tribe ”Yewa people” that has their own style of music (BoIojo) basically almost every ethnic group and sub groups in Nigeria has their own style of music thaws more peculiar to their region. I grew up with a whole lot of those sound. So that had and still has a huge influence on my sound... even after I discovered Jazz and even Funk and went down the rabbit hole of exclusively listening to just that genre of music, I did that for Maybe 5-10yrs straight I was always looking for ways to tell my own story in my own way the African way.

Philosophically speaking it would be what Mahatma Gandhi said (not sure lip quoting it right) but it goes in the line of ”opening your windows for cultures to come in but not opening my doors for it to blow me away from mine” ... if that makes any sense, another philosophy will be learn everything and then forget it ... that way it comes out of you more naturally, this is my way of getting sound in and through that I can say live been able to maybe create a sound that might be characteristic of myself. By the way lip not trying to create a particular style or sound because in so doing we sometimes lose the essence of letting God speak through us, we get in the way and that means our Ego control the sound ... I am just trying to do this music thing the way it comes to me. So, to answer you.

"Music has always been the tool that leaves people think, so they can act and make changes in the society, now when you see whales happening with popular music today you can understand why the social conscious music is part of the conversation, and why our faith has been left to tech guys, politicians, and billionaires... Huge problem I must say...." (Adedeji Adetayo / Photo by Carolina Vallejo)

Why was the Jazz never a part of the pop/ popular music? Whales the balance in music between technique and soul?

First, I would want to believe that jazz used to be a big part of popular music that’s also why a large part of Jazz standard repertoire used to be American song book. If theirs is something peculiar about jazz it would be its ability to expand, evolve. From swing to bebop, to hard bop. Cool Jazz, free jazz... I think it stopped been a part of the popular music because ices kind of become too intellectual and mostly played for students who would go out to listen to artist and teachers they admire or want to learn from or critique, ices become musicians music and a little difficult to follow if you happen to be a non-musician, SC/me time even me as musician sing the melody of some jazz tunes, I mean you used to be able to sing even the free Jazz melody of Ornete Coleman and crazy bebop melodies of Charlie Parker, this one side of the reasons, the other part would be corporate bodies who are more interested in how many followers and likes you have on social media, you canes be a serious musician and have time to stay on those things, its super hard, also radio stations arenas helping either ices hard to discover new sound now because you II probably listen to the same songs thousands of time.. I think that why jazz is mostly isolated from this and that might be the reason it’s not so much part of the pop music these days!

Now to answer the balance between Soul and technique I think the above also answers that in a way... a lot of us have become super intellectual musician that the soulful part of the music is lost. I always find it interesting when I hear player who can blow over difficult chord changes and then you give them a simple change and he/she sounds not as great as he does over technical stuff... I think there’s got to be balance between both... technique is almost easy to learn, of course you have to put in the work but ices attainable, Soul on the other hand is entirely different case I always tell people or students /mentees to go back to stuff they can listen to without wanting to judge it, usually your traditional music always helps to connect you to that soulful experience after all we all got soul ....

Where does your creative drive come from?

My creative drive comes from all of the above, just letting go find letting God! I’ve noticed some compositions that I force my intellect to dictate, where I apply my knowledge of music, they tend to sound like that, whereas when I write a song that everything comes by itself, people feel that more and can relate better. Of course, I also use the knowledge when I donor know where to go, start applying those composition/ arrangement gimmicks if I may call it that.    (Adedeji Adetayo / Photo by Carolina Vallejo)

"Some will be do good and good will come back to you it might not be from whom young expect it from, but it will, music has also made me a better person interestingly. Some other live lessons live learnt is that you’ve got to carry it yourself first then people might help out... also connection is key."

Are there any specific highlights of your career that you would like to tell us about?! What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Some highlights of my career would be when I first played with North Netherlands Symphonic Orchestra, when they hit the first note on my song Erinlakatabu during the rehearsal I felt like I was in Heaven lip looking forward doing a full concert of some of materials with Symphonic Orchestra , Another would again be when I performed with mount Holyoke Symphonic Orchestra in the U.S for an African Opera (Irinajo) it was written by a Nigerian composer and professor, Prof Bode Omojola, he hired me for what I am ,not because he expecting a Pavarotti out of me. That kind of gave me also a stronger opinion to keep doing my thing. Well, there are many countless ones though but those ones stands out because I love big sound! The best advice would be the one I wasn’t giving as an advice actually, it was more like a statement that light a bulb in my head... the man came to me after a performance and told man you sound great, you sound like you studied music!

Didn’t know if I should take that as compliment or not, but that kind of made me always think of ways to make my music almost come across as simple (well sometimes) ... even when they are complicated it has to feel good, ices in odd meters ices got to be Funky! If the changes are hard, the melody needs to be simple ... so it wasn’t a direct advice in the true sense of it, but it became that. Another kind of Advice would be again a statement from a great musician/ Elder state man I was working with (Elder Steve Rhodes) we called him. When I was the guitarist in his Orchestra, the ones asked me if I knew Motown, I did know Motown but didn’t know what a Motown sound was so that forced me to research so many music and any music I find interesting. OK last advice was from a teacher when I was in the polytechnic, the teacher told us to listen to every kind of music ”especially the ones we donor like” that statement still stays with me.

"My creative drive comes from all of the above, just letting go find letting God! I’ve noticed some compositions that I force my intellect to dictate, where I apply my knowledge of music, they tend to sound like that, whereas when I write a song that everything comes by itself, people feel that more and can relate better. Of course, I also use the knowledge when I donor know where to go, start applying those composition/ arrangement gimmicks if I may call it that.(Adedeji Adetayo, a prolific singer, guitarist & composer, born and raised in the vibrant city of Lagos, Nigeria / Photo by Adéọlá Ọlágúnjú)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

What I miss most would be the beauty of discovering music ourselves or by word of mouth without algorithm and media spies directing you to what they want you to hear, I also miss diversity in sound (this is more in the pop world though, but also in jazz) in the past you could tell which artist this is from the other. Also there are less and less places to perform and I understand giving the situation of the world now ,music has become luxury or even taken for granted, think about the covid lockdown, music is one of the only thing that kept people sane, I also fear that music education has become not so important now we celebrate too much mediocrity and a not so talented internet sensation can become the gate keeper or put in music affairs they know nothing about, but it’s not the same in the tech world.

I hope people would also give artist the chance to grow and evolve. Also, there less and less social conscious music and musicians, I mean there was a time you had Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Peter Tosh, Bob Dylan on this planet all at the same time doing their different versions of social conscious music, even Jazz musicians where socially conscious. Bebop was a rebel music, Frank Zappa, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Max Roach to name a few! Stevie Wonders living for the city was pop with strong words it reflected the time, I’m not saying we should only play political or social conscious music, we need happy, love music however, looking at the state the world is, I donor see a lot of us taking up that role for fear of been black booked or canceled. My fear Is how kids are exposed to some much vain music now and giving that this artist become rich and they become the definition of what a successful artist is, now that’s a big problem. I think ices not a coincidence though!

"First, I would want to believe that jazz used to be a big part of popular music that’s also why a large part of Jazz standard repertoire used to be American song book. If theirs is something peculiar about jazz it would be its ability to expand, evolve." (Adedeji Adetayo / Photo by Marios Kourouniotis)

What is the impact of music on the socio- cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Actually, in my long response above I kind of already talked about the importance of socially conscious music. Music is in my opinion the only tool/weapon that’s more direct to the human mind. So music is, if not the most important art that has impact on social issues...let me explain what I mean a bit, you and I can see a painting of Picasso and have different interpretation of the same painting, music on the other hand when you listen to songs even without lyrics you can almost tell which is happy and which is sad... which is militant and which is for party at least in most cases .Now the ones with lyrics will definitely tell you what ices about, like when you listen to blues for instance there’s is happy blues when though the modes suggests a little sad, but when people sing or play the blues, they donor just sing their sorrows away, they also talk about their love ones, particular woman or the booze. Music of different era has dictated the change in the world for that era, be it rock, Funk, Soul, Jazz. Music has always been the tool that leaves people think, so they can act and make changes in the society, now when you see whales happening with popular music today you can understand why the social conscious music is part of the conversation, and why our faith has been left to tech guys, politicians, and billionaires... Huge problem I must say....

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Some will be do good and good will come back to you it might not be from whom young expect it from, but it will, music has also made me a better person interestingly. Some other live lessons live learnt is that you’ve got to carry it yourself first then people might help out... also connection is key. You can force people with bad vibes to work with each other! It destroys the music and the whole energy! Another one is that the energy and spiritual force is a give and take between the artist and the audience they are an integral part of what we give and later experience on stage! We need to be in sync with each other, also if it doesn’t I donor force it (That’s a Funkadelic quote by the way, it can relate to so many things)

"What I miss most would be the beauty of discovering music ourselves or by word of mouth without algorithm and media spies directing you to what they want you to hear, I also miss diversity in sound (this is more in the pop world though, but also in jazz) in the past you could tell which artist this is from the other." (Adedeji Adetayo and his band / Photo by Carolina Vallejo)

John Coltrane said ”My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...”. How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

Probably for me growing up the church, church music as always been about spirituality, I grew up in a particular church in Nigeria which is called celestial church, that particular church has different music for different situation when highly spiritual music is needed and you donor give it, the priest will ask someone else to take the microphone, so to answer your question music and spirituality are almost one in the same at least for those who play conscious music, in the process of performing music there are points where you can Feel Goods presence and people connecting on a higher level there are moment that doesn’t happen, but when it does, man its gold! You want to stay in that realm. Creating that also gives a new meaning to life and everything else, I think. So yes Man spirituality is an extension of himself, and you almost tell when they are in sync, even in popular music ...

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