Wole Soyinka by Glen Gratty

Wole Soyinka by Glen Gratty

The Nobel prize-winning author is poised to receive  the International Humanist Award at the secular body’s annual conference. He narrowly escaped a death sentence in Nigeria in 1994 when he was charged with treason by late Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha who was responsible for the execution of fellow author and human rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 of his colleagues.The Abacha regime was also responsible for the final raids on The Shrine in 1996 and was behind the brutal ten year sentence imposed on Fela Anikulapo Kuti for possession of marijuana.  When tipped off that he was about to be arrested, Wole Soyinka fled the country.

In his video address to the World Humanist Congress, at which he will be presented with its main award, Soyinka will argue that even moderate religious leaders may be “vicariously liable” for sectarian hatred if they have failed to argue against it.

“The conflict between humanists and religionists has always been one between the torch of enlightenment and the chains of enslavement,” says Soyinka.Those chains are not merely visible, but cruelly palpable. All too often they lead directly to the gallows, beheadings, to death under a hail of stones. In parts of the world today, the scroll of faith is indistinguishable from the roll call of death.”

The World Humanist Congress, held every three years, is a unique event bringing together humanists from over forty countries under the auspices of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.


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Finding Fela – The Movie

A couple of nights ago I had the privilege of taking in an advanced screening of Alex Gibney’s ‘Finding Fela’ documentary and I came away thinking, “Yeah, yeah….Fela Anikulapo Kuti… people need to see this film.”

Fela & Sandra

Fela & Sandra

The film

The film

Over the years I’ve osmosed the various stages of Fela’s music, witnessed the various attempts by various major companies to cross him over into the mainstream, read the biographies that document the brutal response of Nigeria’s military to his outspoken lyrics, been saddened by his death from AIDS and watched with a degree of amazement at how the life of this complex musician has continued to blaze brightly in the 21st century, providing a beacon for others to follow in his footsteps should they be so brave!

While I’ve heard some folks deride the “Dead Fela Industry” I’m more than happy that the ghost, the spirit of Fela persists in residing amongst us. There is more music from the man out there and available than ever before and we now also have access to dozens of recordings by other African artists that were undoubtedly influenced by his afrobeat fusion. It’s clear that the Broadway musical ‘Fela!’ has led to an engagement with a brand new audience which includes America’s hip hop royalty. ‘Finding Fela’ the documentary is an offshoot of the musical – which I saw in London and thought was visually innovative, politically and musically powerful and well worth the visit. Alex Gibney’s film gives insight through archive footage and interviews just how the musical was crafted to convey the essence of the man, the music and his struggle.

Firstly, I’ve got to give props to Fela’s ex- manager Rikki Stein who has worked tirelessly to make a lot of this happen. His focus on the States and his commitment and belief in the musical, which began life off Broadway, has given a new life to Fela Anikulaop Kuti’s legacy. Secondly, I now have massive respect for Bill T Jones, who features large in the film and was responsible for both the musical’s choreography and, judging by the filmed discussions in rehearsals, the onstage creation of Fela as shape shifting, multi-dimensional character.

Fela - Bill T

Though the evolution of the musical is woven into the documentary the real story is told through interview clips with Fela himself, archival footage from the Shrine and other concerts, news footage from the Sixties and Seventies in Nigeria and interviews with his children – Femi, Seun and Yeni – along with others who worked and played with him like Sandra (her story of landing in Nigeria only to discover he already had two wives is classic!), Lemi Ghaiokwu, Tony Allen and Dele Sosimi – who more than adequately describes Fela the bandleader. Micheal Veal who played in Fela’s band and wrote an in-depth biography is consitently on point with the music while and Carlos Moore who wrote ‘This Nitch Of A Life’  which seems have provided the template for the musical also features.



The film is a journey of discovery, and it attempts to peel back the layers to get to the essence of the man. Fela’s no saint. He is a one-off. He was scarred from the brutal beatings and the imprisonment and haunted by the murder of his mother by government troops. You had to wonder what those around him thought as he unleashed the next tirade against the powers that be. Hearing Femi talk the raid on the Kalakuta Republic and reflect, “What is this man going to bring down upon us next?” was revealing. The story in the film that recall’s Fela’s involvement with the Ghanaian dark magician Professor Hindu adds a legendary London episode to the canon of stories and also reveals that Hindu was instrumental in Fela’s eventual demise.

I’d love to pack a cinema with a posse of music making kids of African and Afro Caribbean origin along with their mates and play them this film on a big screen with fuck-off sound and see what their response would be. Basically, when it came to keepin’ it real and tellin’ it like it is, Fela was the business. He lived among the people who he aimed his words and music at. When it came to his funeral no-one was sure how many people – if any – would turn up to pay their respects. But turn up they did… go and see the film.

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SONNY ROLLINS: IN HIS OWN WORDS was a satirical piece in the New Yorker – see below – that didn’t sit well with the saxophonist/composer, who is 84 in September, looks great, sounds amazing and regards his musical legacy as incomplete. He’s currently busy working on a lot of new compositions for 2015.

Sonny Rollins by Stephanie Berger

Sonny Rollins by Stephanie Berger

Here’s the spoof – which some people thought was written by Sonny himself. It’s followed by a youtube interview about the piece with Sonny Rollins by Bret Primack.

Daily Shouts – July 31, 2014

Editor’s note: This article, which is part of our Shouts & Murmurs humor blog, is a work of satire.

I started playing the saxophone when I was thirteen years old. There were some other kids on my block who had taken it up, and I thought that it might be fun. I later learned that these guys’ parents had forced them into it.

The saxophone sounds horrible. Like a scared pig. I never learned the names of most of the other instruments, but they all sound awful, too. Drums are O.K., because sometimes they’ll drown out the other stuff, but it’s all pretty bad.

Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with. The band starts a song, but then everything falls apart and the musicians just play whatever they want for as long they can stand it. People take turns noodling around, and once they run out of ideas and have to stop, the audience claps. I’m getting angry just thinking about it.

Sometimes we would run through the same song over and over again to see if anybody noticed. If someone did, I don’t care.

There was this one time, in 1953 or 1954, when a few guys and I had just finished our last set at Club Carousel, and we were about to pack it in when in walked Bud Powell and Charlie Parker. We must have jammed together for five more hours, right through sunrise. That was the worst day of my life.

We always dressed real sharp: pin-stripe suits, porkpie hats, silk ties. As if to conceal the fact that we were spending all our time playing jazz in some basement.

I remember Dexter Gordon was doing a gig at the 3 Deuces, and at one point he leaned into the microphone and said, “I could sell this suit and this saxophone and get far away from here.” The crowd laughed.

I really don’t know why I keep doing this. Inertia, I guess. Once you get stuck in a rut, it’s difficult to pull yourself out, even if you hate every minute of it. Maybe I’m just a coward.

If I could do it all over again, I’d probably be an accountant or a process server. They make good money.

Once I played the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Switzerland, with Miles Davis. I walked in on him smoking cigarettes and staring at his horn for what must have been fifteen minutes, like it was a poisonous snake and he wasn’t sure if it was dead. Finally Miles stood up, turned to his band, and said, “All right, let’s get through this, and then we’ll go to the airport.” He looked like he was about to cry.

I released fifty-odd albums, wrote hundreds of songs, and played on God knows how many session dates. Some of my recordings are in the Library of Congress. That’s idiotic. They ought to burn that building to the ground. I hate music. I wasted my life.

Django Gold is a senior writer for The Onion.


Sonny Rollins on practicing: “I am always happy to be practicing. Period, … I enjoy just playing my horn and going into the type of meditation that playing involves. It puts me mentally in a place that is always transcendent and above real life. I love playing just for myself. It’s a great experience.”

Sonny Rollins on performing: “Playing in public engenders new paths in your brain that you won’t get playing alone. In other words, I can learn something playing in public in five seconds. If I was learning it in private, it might take me three months to get.”

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The Rise Of Chronixx has been a joy to watch.

Initially, it was Pierre Bost at VP records who told me watch out for a conscious new generation yout’ called Chronixx and right now he is definitely on the rise and working it old skool with a nu-skool mindset.


Jamar Rolando McNaughton Jr aka Chronixx is 22 years old and his rep grew consistently throughout 2012 as he gained local airplay, performed at Reggae Sumfest and featured on the Major Lazer-curated mixtape ‘Start a Fire’. In 2013, hard on the heels of ‘Here Comes Trouble’, he toured the UK and the US with his Zincfence Redemption Band as well as performing in Kenya as a Peace Ambassador during the country’s general election.

Chronixx operates his own ZincFence Recordz production house along with producer Romain “Teflon” Arnett and co-producer/engineer Ricardo “Shadyz” Lynch and this year’s ‘Dread & Terrible’ EP, topped the Billboard Top Reggae Albums chart, helped him notch up a bunch of awards and earned him a session on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show.

Like the Rasta youth who are camapaigning to save Pinnacle from developers Chronixx and his crew are organised. They shoots vids and film “the making of…”. A few weeks back a friend e.mailed me from JA and said check out the new Protoje/ Chronixxs single, ‘Who Knows’, as the vid kicks off in her front yard. I was hooked from the off… Protoje arrives with Big Youth at the wheel of his car and Chonixx steps up looking crisp and crooning the hook line. Yes, this is a different generation and they’ve graduated from the Ace 90 skank and CB200 to a next level.

ZinFence Redemption are working band, not unlike The Wailers – who clearly provide a template for their rootical vision. Check out the You Tube films that document their US tour… including the Jimmy Fallon show… and I think you’ll agree that Chronixx and his posse are sharp, intelligent and on a mission.

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‘BLOODY RAIN’ is the latest album from SARAH JANE MORRIS and it’s an album that will make you weep and your spirits soar.

As I’m on a bit a political roll after writing the short reflection the plight of the people in Gaza I’ve naturally progressed to the brand new album from singer, songwriter and band leader Sarah Jane Morris.

Sarah Jane Morris

Sarah Jane Morris

Sarah Jane in The Republic

Sarah Jane in The Republic

I’ve known Sarah Jane since Neil Spencer commissioned me to write a piece for the NME on the band The Republic. That was a long time ago but our paths have crossed many times over the years. She’s always been a remarkably individual voice but I’d say that her voice today is more refined but more smoky and engaging than ever. This latest album. ‘Bloody Rain’ was created through PledgeMusic – a platform where artists and fans come together – and I was fortunate enough to get an invite to it’s live premiere in the theatre at the Hippodrome in central London. Sarah Jane was resplendent in a gown of African print fabric and she was accompanied by a very accomplished band of friends. I felt honoured to be there and to be hearing these amazing, evocative and poetic songs which somehow transcend the violent and murderous world we live in.

Sarah Jane + Tony Remy

Sarah Jane + Tony Remy

‘Bloody Rain’ is devoted to the people of Africa, and the music of that continent. The album brings together a stunningly diverse group of performers. Among a raft of guests are the Zimbabwe-born singer Eska, Senegal’s Seckou Keita on kora, UK-Caribbean saxophonist Courtney Pine, American/Israeli jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen, former James Brown arranger Pee Wee Ellis – and of course the soulmates from Morris’s touring band, including Sting sideman Dominic Miller, and mesmerising guitarist Tony Remy, co-writer of many of these incredible songs.

Typically, Sarah-Jane Morris doesn’t flinch from some raw subjects in telling this story, and while she hopes that many of these haunting songs ‘will lift your spirits’, she accepts that ‘some will make you weep.’ Blossoming as a lyricist in recent years, the singer and her co-writers have taken on subjects from tyrannical political power (‘Bloody Rain’), to honour killings (‘No Beyonce’), child-soldiers (‘No Comfort For Them’), and homophobia (‘David Kato’).

The LP!

The LP!

But these forthright songs, ignited by free flowing grooves, superb playing, and Morris’s startling shifts from the soulfully rhetorical to the intimate, are about hope, not resignation. Bloody Rain is also, crucially, about love – in which respect, though the examples are Sarah-Jane Morris’s own, the music speaks to everyone. Her artist husband Mark and her 80 year-old mother Joy are the inspirations for the glowing Afrobeat opener ‘Feel The Love’, ‘For A Friend’ is a tender yet upbeat tribute to special companions, ‘Wild Flowers’ a grateful celebration of her eccentric, accidentally-liberating upbringing, and the closing ‘On My Way To You’ is as delicate and tender as anything this expressive singer has recorded in her long career. There’s a memorable version of Hugh Masekela’s classic ‘Stimela’ and to bring the LP to a close she’s chosen a witty and a gentle calypso called ‘Men Just Want To Have Fun’ – which at her live performance is accompanied by the distribution of condoms.

A few years a go I bought Ahmadou Kourouma’sbook Allah Is Not Obliged, a novel about boy soldiers in West Africa but prevaricated when it came to reading it. Is it going too heavy… depressing… no light? I should have known that Ahmadou Kourama would deliver something special and he did. It’s the same with Sarah Jane Morris’ ‘Bloody Rain’ – she’s come up with something quite inspirational and for that I give thanks… thanks for strength and commitment and thanks or the words and music.

Coinciding with the release of the LP Sarah Jane Morris plays @ Union Chapel, London on Thursday 18 September.


She plays Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Frith Street, Soho on January 22nd, 23rd and 24th.


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I must have been sleeping when the Cafe Oto email dropped. I completely missed the above video.

Tuareg guitarists Mdou Moctar stands apart from his peers. One of the few original singer/songwriters willing to experiment and push the boundaries with his mix of tales of anguished love and broken hearts and well known classics.

Mdou Moctar hails from Abalak, in Niger – a vast, arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert which has endured austere military rule for much of its post-independence history and remains one of the world’s least-developed nations. Mdou taught himself the guitar at a young age on a homemade instrument and traveled the road to Libya where he worked odd jobs. As chance had it met some of the now famous guitarists which enabled him to further his skills. He returned home with a guitar and a dream.

Mdou rapidly established himself on the local scene and in 2008 traveled to Nigeria to record his first album ‘Anar’ – a psychedelic electronic album of Tuareg guitar. He is famous for his autotuned studio sessions that became popular on West African cellphones. ‘Tahoultine’, one of the standout tracks, was later featured on the compilation ‘Music from Saharan Cellphones’.

A scene from the forthcoming film 'Akounak'

A scene from the forthcoming film ‘Akounak’

In 2013, he released his first international album, ‘Afelane’, rocking and raw sessions recorded live at his hometown in Niger. He is currently in production in the first ever Tuareg language film, Akounak, a fictional story of the struggle of a guitarist trying to make it against all odds in Agadez.

Watch out for his return…I definitely will…

‘Afelane’ is available on Sahel Sounds on vinyl or download via Bandcamp. http://sahelsounds.bandcamp.com/album/afelan

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GAZA – A 21st Century Tragedy

Gaza July 2014

Gaza July 2014

Everyday I get up and read the news from Gaza. I think about my old man who served in North Africa in WW2 and was a fervent supporter of the state of Israel. He admired the spirit that was invested in creating an economically powerful nation state out of the ashes of the Nazi holocaust. But I wonder what he would think today of Israel today with its apartheid, its walls, its bombardment of a civilian population hemmed in… imprisoned and encircled by the Israeli army.

Any outside observer can see that Hamas’ rocket attacks are stupid and pathetically ineffective against the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and its Iron Dome defence system. They come across to this viewer as symbolic, a sign of resistance as opposed to a real threat to Israel. In reality, they’d be better off aiming then at the Israeli’s West Bank Barrier – the most offensive wall in the world.

The Israeli response to the rocket attacks and the tunnels that link Gaza with the outside world and evade the blockade has resulted in death and destruction.The impact and extent of the devastation in Gaza is truly shocking. The IDF leave behind a legacy of trauma and a next generation committed to resistance. During the Blitz, which lasted 8 months, the Germans bombed London for seven consecutive nights and killed 20,000 civilians. People didn’t give up. And ask yourself how many post WWII generations has it taken to accept the German people as fellow Europeans and not the enemy.

Above: the destruction in Gaza City’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, Saturday, July 26, 2014

Considering 20th century history it would be deeply ironic and tragic if Israel were to be prosecuted for war crimes but they are sailing close to the wind. Attitudes within their nation state are hardening and those people committed to peace and living in harmony with their Arab neighbours are spat upon. We in the world outside have to do what our politicians are reluctant to in relation do in all those countries that openly abuse human rights and impose economic and cultural sanctions.

The whole of the middle east presents a depressing cycle of death on a daily basis whether in Iraq, Syria, Egypt or Gaza. In fact, worldwide, politics fueled by religion remains a wickedly dangerous combination and for the foreseeable future I see no respite. That said, we, as people, continue to have a duty to evolve our own collective responses to the daily tragedies that confront us.

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