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Tunday Akintan: The Yorubeat Innovator

There are those that argue that talent is not innate. Rather, it is the ironclad will to keep on practicing in the face of impossibilities. Then there are others who garner talent by being born talent adjacent. Tunday Akintan is one such musician who is lucky in both ways.

Born and raised in Nigeria, he grew up a stone’s throw away from one of Africa’s greatest musical innovators and political activists, Fela Kuti. “He was the regular, simple guy who lived next door,” he says of his mentor’s humility in the face of overwhelming success overseas. “The band members would come over every day to practice and socialise, and us kids would run around them playing and testing out their instruments. None of us had any idea just who we were dealing with.”

He also cites James Brown, King Sunny Ade, and the local Fuji musicians who played in his hometown of Lagos as his major influences. Having witnessed Fela’s creative process in his formative years, Akintan’s music reflects his own daring ventures into the hinterlands of Afro/funk/Fuji/Soul fusion to produce the worldly soundscapes he has dubbed Yorubeat.

On 6 June, Akintan and his six piece band, composed of two saxophonists, a bass and lead guitar, drums and keyboard, showcased original songs from his previous two albums, The Genesis of Yorubeat and Yorubeat Plus, at a concert held at Union Chapel in London. “Growing up, church choir played a huge part in my musical development, you had to be ready to pick up any instrument they needed you on and learn to play it on the spot” he says.

A multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who plays saxophone, drums and piano, he is comfortable to switch roles with his band members without missing a beat. He credits his time at Goldsmith’s University studying music theory for expanding on his skills, yet he is keen to incorporate the traditional instruments of his Yoruba heritage. Halfway through the show at Union Chapel, he retrieved a talking drum and got the lively audience to participate in a call-and-response to a riveting solo.

Fela’s influence on his work does not end at the weirdly wonderful syncopations and polyrhythms, but in the message of his lyrics and the heartfelt connection to his audience as well. Songs like Riot in Lagos and Give Me Africa speak on his politics as a third culture kid who grew sonically in the cultural diversities of Lagos and London. While closing off the concert with a massive, communal dance off as audience members raid the stage and work up a sweat creates the feeling that here is a musician who truly thrives on cultivating a familial ambience to his shows.

The composer, arranger and producer of almost all his songs, Akintan’s innovation of Yorubeat is a testament that even Afrobeat has room for the expansion and contortion of all its rules. He will be embarking on a European tour this summer, wrapping up in Lisbon where he’ll record his third studio album set to be released on iTunes and Amazon by December 2014.

Aptly titled My Time, he says, “This album will showcase my musical journey, the people and issues I’ve connected with. There is a song I wrote for a friend who recently died. The album exposed me emotionally, but it is a positive thing.” The artist as the alchemist of life’s highs and lows; this is the sensation one is submersed in when listening to Tunday Akintan’s music. A new sound influenced by far flung musical giants then filtered through his own joys and sorrows, connecting us all like birds on a cosmic wire. It is a good time to be alive.

Sol Goshu

Credits
1. Photography © Mark Vigon

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