Traditional opening libation and community drum circle at 8:30 pm; Show at 9:15 pm
Welcome to the 15th exciting Musical Night in Africa: Bandleader and host Babá Ken Okulolo invites you to “Come with the entire family for a fun night as we transport you spiritually through the music of Africa and beyond, from the land that begot all of us. Be ready to dance, dance, dance!” The night features Babá Ken and Friends, the Nigerian Brothers, the Ghanaian music of the Bodac Cultural Group, the community drum circle (if you’ve got a hand drum or shaker, bring it), and a libation and blessing. Okulolo adds, “This is our end-of-the-year party to bring together and thank all the community for their treasured support over many years.”
This event always gets everyone involved, beginning with the opening African Libation to heal the planet, led by Okulolo, who then joins with musicians and audience in the Community Drum Circle. The drum circle includes some of the songs from Okulolo’s most recent CD, “African Drum Songs,” as well as traditional fare: African drum songs with singing and chanting (and no other instruments), for healing and raising the spirit. “There is a special magic in African music, which all the human family can feel and share,” Okulolo explains. “As a village boy in Nigeria, I learned rhythms and songs from my parents and elders. Music was all around me, full of the joy and excitement of life.” A drum and dance performance will grow out of the drum circle, leading into the three African bands.
Babá Ken Okulolo first came to the U.S. as part of King Sunny Ade’s band, and he was also the bassist in Nigeria’s seminal Afro-rock group Monomono. Since moving to Oakland in 1985, he has created a stable of African bands including Kotoja (which inspired clothier Dan Storper to start world music label Putumayo Records), West African Highlife Band, and the Nigerian Brothers.
Babá Ken & Friends features musicians from a number of bands and countries, led by Okulolo on bass and vocals. They were a hit earlier this year at Ashkenaz, brought together by love of the music, and the eclectic repertoire ranges from highlife to Afrobeat to Afrofunk and everything in between. Okulolo’s friends are Soji Odukogbe (lead guitarist in Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 band), guitarist Ron Van Leeuwaarde (of Zulu Spear and Caribbean Allstars, and a native of Suriname), Rasaki Aladokun (from King Sunny Ade’s band) on congas and talking drum, drummer Jerome Leonard (from Zulu Spear and West African Highlife Band), percussionist Raul Ramirez (Peru), keyboardist Jennifer Jolly, and a full horn section with reeds players Dani Bittker and Roger Cox (from Jamaica) plus trumpeter Bill Ortiz (a 16-year veteran of touring with Santana).
When some of those musicians unplug and play and sing traditional folk music of their homelands, they become the Nigerian Brothers. Okulolo, Odukogbe,Aladokun, and Pope Flyne are spiritual, not blood brothers, nor do they all come from Nigeria, but they all share the experience of growing up in their villages hearing the songs they sing together. The Brothers perform songs that are quickly vanishing from Africa itself, recreating the folk and palm-wine music they heard as children, music that was played under the full moonlight. With harmonious voices, lilting guitars, and traditional percussion instruments, this gentle but joyously rhythmic music is a special treat for those who enjoy authentic African sounds.
Launched in Ghana by dancer-drummer Benjamin Ofori, the Bodac Cultural Group is a Bay Area-based ensemble that not only performs traditional African dance and drumming, but teaches it as well. As the group explains, “Our mission is to share to various communities, our knowledge, gifts, talents and joy of West African art and culture through our vibrant performances and education.”