This week is a special one for the Afrobeat fans amongst us. October 15th was the birthday of one Fela Anikulakpo Kuti, the founding father of the groundbreaking genre and – as such – the week has become one of annual festivities dubbed, fittingly, as “Felabration“. Kuti’s legacy is one that has spread far and wide from his native Nigeria, including to his self-professed “disciples“, the Dublin-based Yankari.
Launching their EP, Memoirs Of Our Time, this Friday at the The Sugar Club’s Felabration event, the group showcase a fantastic understanding of all that is great about Afrobeat: enticingly intricate rhythms dancing beneath rich brass grooves. Lyrics about justice and hope channel Kuti’s spirit, but the trio are not content in mere emulation. Instead, the instrumentation brings in more contemporary Western styles too – there are licks of bluesy, rock guitar and jazzy organ sounds, for example. The result is a a gloriously upbeat, immersive listen that is impossible to sit still to – check out our exclusive stream of new track ‘Society’ over on GoldenPlec if you need proof.
We had a chat with Uché Gabriel Akujobi about Yankari’s fascinating origins, the recording of the EP and, of course, Fela.
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves? Your founding members are in fact from Nigeria, so what brought you all over to Dublin, and then what brought you all together?
“So we are indeed from Nigeria – Segun and Michael Akano are brothers from the Yoruba tribe and Uché Gabriel Akujobi from the Igbo tribe. We moved to Dublin, Ireland for a better life some 13/14 years ago and we met in a hostel. We already had the love for music from playing in the church back home and, over the years, we acted in a few plays together, played with other bands until it finally clicked that we really enjoyed making music together!”
What does ‘Yankari’ mean?
“Yankari is an area in Nigeria and where the Yankari games reserve is located. It’s the only reserve we know of in Nigeria and we like the name. So why not give it a new meaning with our music? Plus it sounds cool.”
What inspired/influenced your blend of more contemporary rock and funk styles with that traditional Afrobeat sound?
“Living in Ireland for over 13 years has exposed us to other musical styles to the extent that they have become part of our everyday natural rhythm. Merging that with what is already ingrained in us was only natural as the next step. We also wanted a unique original afrobeat sound while being ourselves really. So it’s not just contemporary rock and funk, but other styles which we have learnt are included.”
You’re releasing your EP, Memoirs Of Our Time, on Felabration Day – how important is the legacy of Fela to you?
“Fela was the first and last of his kind in Nigeria – he was a man who stood up to injustice with his music. His philosophy of life and way of thinking was ahead of his time. His courage and determination to continue fighting with his music while continuously being threatened was a testament to the kind of man he was. He had his special way of life and his door was open to anyone. He is our mentor and we, his disciples.”
Can you tell us a bit about the recording of the EP?
“We recorded at our friend’s studio, Allen Music Studio. We’ve known him for a while and had recorded a few songs with him in the past. It wasn’t all that straightforward as we had some long nights making sure everything sounds right and getting the right musicians to help bring the sound alive. It took about 6 months in the studio for us to get to where we are now.”
Fela is obviously famous for his politics crossing over into his music, and listening to tracks like ‘Lies’ it feels like you have something to say as well. Is it important to you that your songs have a message?
“Yes. However, what is more important is for listeners to enjoy the music, the rhythm and the blend of styles while we share some of our feelings. The message comes naturally as we can only write and sing about what we have seen, experienced, [what we are] experiencing and what we’d like to see happen.”
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Yankari?
“We are currently working on our debut album and tend to spend more time recording rather than gigging at the moment. However, we love to put on a good show, so any gigs that do come along and meets the right conditions? We make sure it’s a show you never forget.”