Loopocalypse Day 14 (of 17): “Space Shrine”

This one is a tribute to Fela Kuti and afrobeat.

I’m not trying to play in an authentic Nigerian style, obviously. But I lived for this stuff when I was in my early ’20s. Back then there was a thriving expat African musician community in Oakland, and I was privileged to be mentored by monster players who’d played with the greats, or who were the greats.

The first good band I ever played in was with Orlando Julius, a highlife star who’d come to the States with Hugh Masekela. (At the time, he performed under the name O.J. Ekemode, and everyone called him O.J.)

At the time, I’d just dropped out of a classical music composition PhD program, where I’d focused exclusively on abstract and complex music that no one liked. It was a revelation not only to play in a great dance band, but to play a single one- or two-bar pattern without (intentional) variation for 30 or 40 minutes at a time.

Even though it’s been a long time since I’ve played somewhat authentic African pop, the style influences me every time I pick up the guitar. I’m eternally grateful to have learned from such masters. Ever since that experience, I’ve maintained an exceedingly afrocentric view regarding the history of American popular music.

The last time I swapped email with O.J. he was living back in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, and doing well. He still performs in African and Europe.

The guitar, a loaner from singer Greer Sinclair, is a 21st-century Tele Deluxe reissue, retrofitted with a Bigsby and Lollar Wide Range pickups. More info.

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