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‘Our ethos was content songs and superior vibes’: genre-busting Black British band Osibisa


Two Ghanian pensioners are speaking about how they initial satisfied, nearly 60 decades ago, in London’s Soho jazz scene. Teddy Osei, a saxophonist and drummer, and Lord Eric Sugumugu, a percussionist, solid a friendship “playing among the the diaspora”.

Sugumugu had a gig with Ginger Johnson and His African Messengers, though Osei performed with Dudu Pukwana, the wonderful South African jazz saxophonist.

Sugumugu is ebullient, leaping out of his seat to exclaim about their role in earning the 60s swing: amongst many other factors, he was portion of an African drum troupe the Rolling Stones employed at their 1969 Hyde Park live performance.

Although Osei was not there himself, he did be part of the Stones to execute Brown Sugar on Top rated of the Pops.

Osei, aged 87, is a stroke survivor, his voice rarely growing over a whisper. But with a new album out, he wishes to explain to his story as an unsung pioneer: as founder and chief of the band Osibisa. Very best recognised for their two mid-70s hits Sunshine Day and Dance the Overall body Songs,

Osibisa never ever conformed to style, mixing Ghanian highlife audio with jazz, soul and rock, and later funk and disco. This hybrid audio, drawing from across the diaspora, is accurately what you listen to in today’s youthful Black British stars undertaking drill, Afro-swing and Afrobeats.


Osei nods in settlement at the recommendation his sound was prescient. “I was born in Kumasi, Ghana’s next town, and played highlife with my band the Comets in the 1950s. I shifted to Accra but I wanted to go abroad.” He travelled to London in 1962.

“I bought work in a resort, washing dishes, and enrolled in evening courses. I played jazz and rock’n’roll, normally doing work with my fellow Africans – we were being 1 group. Again then, there were being incredibly couple Africans in London. Now it is total up!” He laughs, then adds: “But it is very good they all received a chance to arrive below.”

Foremost Cat’s Paw, soul audio handles band, Osei labored throughout Europe until, immediately after an prolonged sojourn actively playing Tunisian inns, he returned to London in 1969 decided to variety Osibisa. Their name derived from osibisaba, a prewar proto-highlife rhythm. Two of his unique bandmates were buddies from Ghana, a different two have been Nigerian.

“I preferred to make a difference to the African audio scene,” suggests Osei. “I required to make a various sound.” At first so inadequate the band have been compelled to rehearse in Osei’s Finsbury Park basement flat, it was when 3 Caribbean musicians joined that Osibisa observed their sound. “Wendell Richardson could enjoy rock guitar,” points out Osei.

Osibisa swiftly made a mark, their dynamic fusion enabling them to enjoy the Roundhouse and Ronnie Scott’s along with African and Caribbean haunts. Jimi Hendrix dropped in to see them rehearse: “He beloved our rhythms.

If he’d played with us, he would have lived.” But it was Stevie Question who, even though in London in 1970, was so enamored by Osibisa he joined them on stage on drums, then assisted engineer a file offer.

Stevie Ponder was so enamoured by Osibisa he joined them on stage on drums, then helped them get a record deal

They were being managed by Gerry and Lilian Bron, industry veterans who experienced previously managed the Bonzo Pet Doo-Dah Band. It was they, states Osei, who insisted on Tony Visconti producing Osibisa and Roger Dean designing their LP addresses. (Dean later crafted fantastical visions for Of course.)

Was it a society clash, Visconti and Dean remaining linked with British rock bands? No, says Osei, both of those gentlemen listened to him. “Visconti was leaning on me for suggestions as to how to get the suitable audio – I like him for that! And Dean questioned what sort of suggestions I had.

I claimed, ‘Something African’ and suggested an elephant. He drew a traveling elephant and it is been Osibisa’s brand ever considering the fact that.”

The band’s eponymous debut album and stick to-up Woyaya, the two 1971, were being Visconti/Dean efforts that marketed strongly internationally and are now regarded as their finest perform. 

Music for Gong Gong, from their debut, rapidly grew to become a soul DJ favourite (Louie Vega has remixed it), though a moving interpretation of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Spirits Up Higher than is 1 of Woyaya’s highlights. I point out this and Osei replies: “Roland Kirk, he jam with us in London.”

Worldwide viewers … Osibisa performing for the BBC. Photograph: David Redfern/Redferns

Looking at I’m impressed, Osei suggests Osibisa also performed with Sunlight Ra when the maverick American produced his United kingdom debut in 1971. Sugumugu then describes his Belsize Park African tunes club Iroko – where by the Osibisa/Kirk jam took area – as “the area exactly where all Black musicians viewing London headed to. Fela arrived there!”

The Nigerian star Fela Kuti is now witnessed as the pioneer of Afrobeat, but Osei and Sugumugu want to make something obvious. “Fela obtained all his vibes from Ghana,” claims Osei. “That’s where by he obtained his rhythms. He then did anything his way – no 1 could inform him just about anything. He was a character.”

“Without Osibisa,” adds Sugumugu, “Fela wouldn’t have transpired. He had his possess beautiful madness.”

Osibisa were being the initially African band to command an global viewers, as perfectly as remaining vastly well known throughout their residence continent. But, as they made a pop seem in the mid-70s, the likes of Kuti and King Sunny Ade became the dominant figureheads for a new wave of African roots audio that would seize international notice in the 80s.

“Fela was pretty friendly to me, maybe for the reason that we the two play keyboards,” claims Robert Bailey, a co-founder of Osibisa, who continues to be in the band.

“The 1st time we met him in Lagos, I bear in mind he was so delighted to see all of us.” Bailey was only 19 when he joined, finding “the music fascinating. It was incredibly familiar to me with all the rhythms that I had played and listened to in Trinidad.” Not only did the eight musicians bond but, he states, audiences also responded immediately.

“The ethos was satisfied songs and excellent vibes. We bought on to the college student union circuit and shared the bill with a lot of rock groups – Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull – which was a excellent experience. I was amazed how rapid it all happened. We then toured for four years with an occasional 7 days off. It was fantastic for a while, but it turned exhausting.”

So significantly so that Bailey 1st left the band in 1975: Osibisa’s revolving-door policy has noticed band associates coming and likely over the a long time.

“Teddy’s constantly been quite serene,” states Bailey, “so there has in no way been any bad blood in between us. I have taken time out to perform as an arranger and bandleader but I like to return to Osibisa. It is something specific – this African and Caribbean music produced in London.”

Is it genuine, I check with, that marijuana performed a huge element in Osibisa’s seem? “Oh, yeah,” replies Bailey with a giggle. “It’s a spiritual drug and we were being heavy people who smoke.”

Teddy Osei in 1974.
Contacting the photographs … Teddy Osei in 1974. Photograph: Fin Costello/Redferns

Right after releasing 1977’s Black Magic Night time: Reside at the Royal Competition Corridor, Osibisa concentrated on touring, commanding enormous audiences throughout Africa, India (100,000 men and women attended a single live performance in Kolkata) and Latin The usa.

Ghanaian guitarist Kari Bannerman joined just after Wendell Richardson was drafted into Cost-free, and remembers his initially tour with the band being in Thailand. Then they played in Lebanon – “the Israelis experienced bombed the airport the day we arrived” – and Syria. “People all about the globe cherished the vitality and spontaneity of the tunes,” says Bannerman.

In fact, seeing them at the London Barbican in 2015, I was struck by their musical ebullience. That calendar year, Osei also endured a stroke that stopped him from touring, but at 87 he nonetheless calls the pictures: while he doesn’t engage in on New Dawn, Osibisa’s to start with studio album in 12 a long time, Osei signed off almost everything from the songs to the sleeve design and style.

I propose that up to date African pop stars Burna Boy and Fuse ODG are Osibisa’s sonic offspring but the veteran jazzman appears bemused by my recommendation. “They discuss,” he claims. “Not so a great deal singing and actively playing.” Sugumugu, not about to let the minute go, declares: “Yesterday I listened to Afrobeats on Kiss FM – and they all appear from Osibisa!”

What is he most happy of? “Osibisa,” he says, “brought Black men and women jointly in America, the Caribbean and Africa. Osibisa gave Africans confidence in their very own music.”

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