Orlando Julius Ekemode requires little introduction to those musically inclined and avid music enthusiasts alike. He has been active since 1958 and that activity has been incredible, his contribution to music is outstanding and cannot fail to impress. He is a visionary and pioneer.
He is credited as being largely responsible for the development of the funk music movement with his 1966 cult album Super Afro Soul. His fusion of sound from his native Nigeria with other genres of music occurring simultaneously in the world around him was to be a concept to be imitated, deployed and manipulated for future musical generations to come.
Spending many years in America working on collaborations with equal greats such as The Jazz Crusaders, Hugh Masekela and Lamont Dozier, his career is still going strong into his sixth decade and he remains the all time legend of Nigerian music. His new collaborative album with dynamic London outfit The Heliocenrics entitled Jaiyede Afro, recorded in North London, is due for release on Strut Records on September 9th.
I chatted to Orlando, a forefather of funk, from his native Nigeria ahead of this date. In addition his auspicious career was discussed, as was Louis Armstrong and that wonderful thing we call music…
Your career started in the 1960's and in the 1970's you did not get the recognition and royalties that were due to you for the song Going back to my Roots. Did this at any point make you disillusioned with the music industry to the point that you ever felt like quitting?
I started playing professionally in 1958. No… Not so much that I felt like I wanted to get out of the industry. I am very grateful that through my job I got to travel so extensively throughout America and Europe, and it is always good to keep working despite obstacles and the more you work the more people know about you and the more credit you get for your work. I see comments today onYouTube clips and they are very positive and people know that I am the one that worked on this music, and the momentum is gaining all the time.
Your contribution to music is so significant and undeniable. You are credited with the invention of Afro-pop and are also cited as being very influential in the very existence of the subsequent funk movement. It was a very progressive concept and paved the way for many generations of musicians after you; to fuse musical genres, those being traditional African sounds and rhythms with American soul and R&B and pop. What was your creative inspiration?
I feel the world is one, and the world of music is one. When I was a young guy I listened to the radio a lot and I heard a lot of Otis Redding and Louis Armstrong and that was my inspiration. I was lucky enough to meet Louis Armstrong when he came to Nigeria and my band met with him. We played the clubs together in Nigeria we used to play the song, do you know it; Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen in the clubs to a mix of black and white audiences. It worked well too as I loved my time in America and was happy to bring my music to the states and play festivals over there like The New Orleans Jazz Festival.
In 1966 the release of the album Super Afro Soul raised you to celebrity status in Nigeria. In 2000 the album was released by Strut Records awarding you wider popularity and acclaim in The States and Europe. Your relationship with Strut has proven very positive as your new album Jaiyede Afro is due for release with The Heliocentrics next month. How did you become involved with London outfit The Heliocentrics and will you be touring to mark the release of the album?
I was invited to play a festival in France and that is how we met. I had heard talk of this band previously and I discussed this invitation with my wife and we said; ”lets go”. I met them in France. I was a little bit unsure at first and Quentin (from Strut records) gave them a drum and they played my song. I felt so happy and relaxed straight away. They played my song so well. They are a great band and they are very tight. They appreciate what they do and are very grateful to be doing it: I am happy to have worked with them.
What does music mean to you?
Music is God’s gift to me. I don’t think I would be so happy if I couldn’t play music and close to 80% of my life is music. My fans are still listening to my music today, and they still love it and I am glad it has happened this way. I have got to go all around the world and meet people who love my music. I have been studying music since I was in elementary school and I was lucky as not all schools had music education when I was growing up. I learned to play different instruments like the saxophone, the drums and the flute. I can now use this education and knowledge in my own music compositions, to be able to say…. I want drums here or flute in this particular part of the composition.
How many hours a day do you practice?
That is a good question (laughs). It is hard to say. When I wake up I practice when I am hungry I eat… and when I am tired I sleep… Otherwise I practice!