British Soul legend, Omar, often cited as the godfather of British neo-soul will be gracing the stage at the 2016 edition of the Lagos Jazz Series, the 7th in the series.
Omar, full name Omar Christopher Lye-Fook was born on October 14, 1968 and received an MBE in 2013 from Prince Charles for services to music. His 1990 hit, There’s Nothing Like This from the album of the same title is considered a classic of the genre.
Omar, former principal percussionist of the Kent Youth Orchestra and later graduate of the Guildhall School Of Music in London has collaborated with heavy hitters like Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu and Angie Stone.
Announcing the line-up, Oti Bazunu, convener of the Lagos Jazz Series said “this year’s edition will be very exciting. We have an eclectic mix of very interesting artistes. We have two amazing and refreshing bands from Cape Verde headed by Lito Coolio and Lizenda Da Cruz. Their blend of Morna music infused with reggae is fresh and amazingly different.
Then there is Omar, the British neo soul legend who will bring his unique blend of soul music to Lagos. Maka is a Naija home-grown artist with a fresh approach and flavour. Other acts on the line-up include guitarist, Hamish Stuart from The Average White Band as well as the Lagos Jazz Series Quintet and a host of others.”
The Cape Verdean contingent will be bringing alive the music and song of Cape Verdean Grammy winner, Cesaria Evora, whose music and quirky stage performance put Cape Verdean Morna music on the global musical map.
The Lagos Jazz Series has played host before now to Mos Def now known as Yaasin Bey, Marcus Miller, rapper M.I, soul singer Bez, rapper Jesse Jagz and Seun Kuti amongst others.
This year’s edition will take place at two venues, Muri Okunola Park on Friday November 25 and The Moorhouse Sofitel Hotel Ikoyi on Saturday November 26. Guests will be treated not just to good music but to Catuma, a special bubbly wine making its Lagos debut.
“Open air music was not popular when we started the Lagos Jazz Series,” Oti Bazunu says wistfully. “But see how we changed the game and this year we continue with our tradition of daring to think differently and Lagos will see, feel and hear that difference.”
There was once a time, believe it or not, when the word diva, actually meant something grand, long before every two penny wannabe chanteuse appropriated the moniker.
To understand what the word meant, away from its operatic provenance, think Edith Piaff, think Nina Simone and then think of Cesaria Evora of Cape Verde.
While Piaff, the French chanteuse and Simone, the American classically trained jazz pianist are well known many people do not know Cesaria Evora, famous for her quirky ways and fondly referred to as the ‘Baferoot diva’ because she never wore shoes while performing and always insisted on a bottle of whiskey and pack of cigarettes on stage.
Where did her shtick come from? Well blame it on the time spent serenading sailors in the taverns of Cape Verde before they boarded Europe-bound vessels.
Cesaria Evora was born in 1941 in Cape Verde but did not gain global acclaim until she was in her mid-forties, when in 1988, she released her first commercial album La Diva Aux Pieds Nus. The album was recorded in France.
How did Ceasaria transit from the dingy taverns of Cape Verde to the brightly lit stages of France? Let’s put it down to a mix of talent and providence. Long famous in Cape Verde, it took an invitation from a fellow Cape Verdean Morna artiste, Bana, who took her on a tour to Lisbon and while on that trip, Cesaria met famed music producer, José da Silva, who, as western history is written, subsequently discovered Cesaria and took her to France.
It was an auspicious move because great works followed in quick succession from La Diva Aux Pieds Nus which had been preceded by the 1987 LP entitled Cesaria, which marked, in many ways, her international entrée. In 1992, Cesaria released her album, Miss Perfumado which did not only sell over 300,000 copies worldwide, it included her monster hit and one of her most celebrated works, “Sodade”.
Sodade is a mellow and almost melancholic song with a haunting and funereal feel as she invokes the word Sodade. The guitar and cavanquinho in the background seem to imbue the song with longing and nostalgia for something past. It became a much requested song and one of her most popular songs.
More accolades would come in the years ahead as Cesaria’s fame grew and along it world-wide acclaim as the middle-aged diva captured the attention of the music world.
Regarded as Queen of Morna, she became the undisputed ambassador of Morna music, native to Cape Verde and similar to the Argentine tango but differentiated by its Creole lyrics and the instruments it is accompanied by – clarinet, violin, guitar and cavaquinho. Morna is much popular and with a stronger national appeal in Cape Verde compared to other musical forms like Funaná, Coladeira, Batuque and Cabo love.
Despite her age, the Barefoot Diva was not relenting. Years spent singing for a pittance to drink adled sailors in the taverns of Sao Vicente seemed to have prepared her for the big time. She captured hearts and sold out venues from Paris to London and New York.
In 1995, her fame ratcheted up notches after she released a self-titled album Cesaria which snagged her her first Grammy nod in the World music category. Two years later she won big at the Kora music awards going home with three awards -: “Best Artist of West Africa”, “Best Album” and “Merit of the Jury”.
But it was in 2003, that the big one dropped when she won the Grammy in the World Music category for her album Voz d’Amor.
Cesaria Evora had finally put Cape Verde and its beloved Morna firmly on the world music map. So by the time her health began to fail in 2010 following a heart attack which led to her retirement in 2011 and despite ill health, Evora stayed diva-licious to the very end receiving visitors from all over the world and never parting from her whiskey and cigarette right up until her passing on December 17, 2011 at the ripe age of 70.
Come November 25 and 26, 2016, Cesaria Evora will resurrect in Lagos, first at the Muri Okunola park where Lito Coolio, a contemporary street band steeped in the best tradition of Morna will take the stage at the 7th edition of the Lagos Jazz Series, the annual festival of jazz and alternative music.
Lito Coolio will bring alive the spirit of Cesaria Evaro, serenading discerning Lagos musical aficionados with beautiful music that transcends time, tongue and geography.
“I was in Cape Verde and I saw them performing in the streets. Their music was contemporary and street yet mature and almost timeless. They were playing Morna but it was Cape Verdean folk music infused with a heavy reggae vibe. They blew me away and I knew right there and then that I had to bring them to Lagos,” recalled Oti Bazunu, the convener of the Lagos Jazz series.
“They will be playing not just their own reggae infused Morna but also favourites from the undisputed Queen of Morna, Cesaria Evora.”
On the bill as well is “The Average White Band’s” Hamish Stuart and the eclectic fast rising Nigerian newbie “Amaka Amaka” and a host of others” says, the obviously excited Oti. “There would be regulars like the Lagos Jazz Series Quintet as well as South African based young Nigeria trumpeter – Etuk.”
Previous editions have seen stars like Afrocentric American rapper, Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), Marcus Miller, M.I and alternative soul singer, Bez light up the stage at both Muri Okunola and other venues.
This year, the action will be at Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island and The Moorhouse Sofitel Hotel where Lagosians would be treated to the very best music from around the world.
“We have done this six times and the seventh edition will be no less exciting. Our line-up is growing by the day. Lagosians are in for a good time as usual,” Oti Bazunu said with a twinkle in his eyes.
Oti Bazunu seems always animated but it is controlled animation, like a tightly wound spring that could explode with little prompting. He speaks with a slight American accent from years living in New York where his love for jazz was cemented but he can segue easily between Queens English and the pidgin English variant spoken in his native Warri.
Business man and art aficionado, Oti is convener of the Lagos Jass Series which he has championed for the past 6 years. As he prepares for the 7th edition, The Guardian caught up with Oti to find out what drives his love for Jazz and what Lagosians are to expect the 7th time around. Excerpts.
6 years and 7 editions of the Lagos Jazz series, how has the journey been?
Yes indeed, this is our 7th year running and we are loving every bit of it – our effort is to continually try to relax the folks of Lagos through music, alfresco style, at the park or by the pool side – just easing the soul musically.
Just like most things in life we, too have had our ups and downs but we roll with it. This year we have challenges but come Friday November 25th at the Muri Okunola Park in Victoria Island we shall come alive again with the soulful sounds of Cape Verdean world artistes – Lito Coolio, Lizenda Da Cruz as well as eclectic Nigeria newbies like Amaka Amaka and a host of others.
You have said before that this is a labour of love, passion trumping common sense, what does music mean to you?
Unlike most other ways of releasing stress, music is unique in the way it makes you feel good – it touches your very soul and makes you human again. We all have to find ways to let it all hang loose – music does that for me.
Street festivals are not popular in Nigeria but you have kept faith with Muri Okunola Park. Why go against the grain?
True, Street or music festivals are not popular in Nigeria – save for The Eyo and Calabar festivals. But it’s a matter of awareness, once we started using the Muri Okunola Park in 2010, outdoor and open festivities became trendy. The park has become very busy with events – that’s great. Street and park events have a way of making us feel good with ourselves.
Jazz Music is considered elitist, almost insular, do you think it has a strong following in Nigeria?
Yes, jazz can be elitist, however, it can also be inclusive. What most folks don’t realize is jazz is in the roots of all music including Afrobeat. Fela first dabbled around with jazz before he found a footing in Afrobeat as we now know it. When you listen to Afrobeat well, you will hear all that jazz in it.
The festival is called Lagos Jazz series yet you feature non-jazz artistes. What informs your choice?
Yes indeed, we are The Lagos Jazz Series – not to be confused with any other and as I said earlier, jazz is inclusive – we feature our traditional jazz artists alike however, we also include other genre of musicians simply because they too find relevance in jazz music. For example, at the Montreaux and Montreal jazz festivals, you will find neo-soul artists and others not classified as jazz. So, it’s a case of all music considered.
So, we have had heavy hitters like Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def and M.I. Who and who is on the line up this year?
Heavy hitters indeed. We have been fortunate to have had some greats grace our Lagos Jazz Series stage from Marcus Miller, who once played with Miles Davies to Bob James whom they call the originator of smooth jazz. Roy Hargrove to Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) as you mentioned. We try to engage various artists from around the globe and fuse them on the same stage with our home-grown talents like M.I. Abaga, Seun Kuti and many more.
This year, we are bringing the Cape Verdeans – a musical set of people from a small country made up of ten Islands just off the coast of Senegal. This country is especially known for her musical export the biggest being the late Casaria Evora, a Grammy award winner. On Friday November 25th at the Muri Okunola Park in Victoria Island we will hear some creole styled reggae from these Cape Verdeans together with some eclectic Nigerian newbies and the next day November 26th at Moorhouse Hotel Ikoyi, we will again hear a different set of these Islanders – this time pelting soulful creole Portuguese music – you have to hear these guys.
We, of course also have The Lagos Jazz Series Quintet featuring Ope on Piano, Tosin on drums, Johnson Eyo on double bass, Clegg on trumpet and Victor on sax. Its going to be quite a line-up of artists on this two-day jazz festival. Tickets for the park events are nominal. There would be drinks available at the park with side kiosks – Catuma is readily available… Ah! finally a great drink for the ladies!
After 7 editions, has there been an artiste that rocked your stage and has gone on to become a star?
Yes, we have had artists who after performing at The Lagos Jazz Series their music became fuller, richer and bigger; star – jazz influence, I guess. I remember when Burna Boy came on our stage performing his “Like to Party” in jazz with a full set of horns and M.I. conducting and playing the piano. So, we are happy to be influencing our home grown artists jazz-wise and positively so.
This year, you are going to Cape Verde? When one thinks of Cape Verde, the first thought is not music. So why Cape Verde? Cesaria Evora seems to be your favourite. What about her caught you and did you ever see her perform?
Why not Cape Verde? Sometimes the best of a people or country is not easily seen from the outside however, when you get closer voila! I just got back from Cape Verde and I can tell you that music is very much a part of their lives as well as water and fishing.
I remember the story I read of Casaria Evora going to perform in Paris for the first time years ago. For those who knew her and her beautiful soulful creole songs, she always came on stage bare-footed and there must be a bottle of whisky and cigarettes on a table for her. When she was told to wear shoes, she said simply: “You want me to wear shoes? Then I don’t perform – I’ll go back home.”
Anyhow, she got to perform and the entire royal hall audience was mesmerized – she went on to win a Grammy after that. I did see her perform in New York many years ago. May her soul rest in peace.
Give us a sneak peek, what are the major highlights for this year?
The sneak peek would be for you to be there – don’t miss this one. Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island – Friday November 25th and Moorhouse Hotel, Ikoyi – November 26th. 6pm and 7pm respectively.
So, there will be two different shows this year, as usual, the street party at the Muri Okunola Park and then the Moore House event. Why do you always host two?
We usually have three-day festival at three separate venues, however this year we have had to scale it accordingly given the situation in the country as we know it.
Aside from Catuma, we don’t see the usual sponsors. How are you able to go this alone in a recession?
We understand that there seems to be sponsor fatigue, however we have a sponsor in Catuma – the vibrant and refreshing wine that ladies love. (I have seen ladies get down at Catuma parties – hmm! Quite exciting) We will have plenty of it at the festival. We are glad to have Catuma as sponsors and we continue to thank our sponsors from over the years and Keith Richards of Promasidor who has been of help and a big supporter.
One of the main reasons why 1959 is often cited as a watershed year in modern art is the arrival of Ornette Coleman to New York; the release of his first major-label record, “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” in October of that year; and the beginning of his epochal gig at the Five Spot, in November. Keep Reading →
Santana is coming in the spring of 2015 with “The Corazon Tour.” It was announced on Monday not only will the band tour part of the U.S., Carlos will play three dates in his homeland of Mexico. Keep Reading →
If Jay Z plans on giving you exclusive music AND exclusive video content on his Tidal app, I might be all in. Singer Erykah Badu released a 50-minute movie ‘TheyDieByDawn” on the app on April 4th.
Mayor Nutter announced Monday that Wynton Marsalis, the jazz and classical musician, composer, and arts advocate, is the recipient of the 2015 Marian Anderson Award.