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‘FUNKY ROOTS’ Sola Akingbola, from beating percussions with Jamiroquai to launching Critical Mass


For 18 years, he has best been known as the percussionist with acid jazz god king Jamiroquai. On Monday, 3rd of March, 2014, Sola Akingbola launches the single Generation Vex with the live project Critical Mass. The song, heavily influenced by Yoruba rhythms, is available on iTunes, Spotify, Deezer and Amazon.

Generation Vex, the first single by Critical Mass

StarAfrica – Greetings Sola Akingbola, please can you talk a little bit about your new live project Critical Mass and its debut single, Generation Vex (watch the video above), available now through Hip Sync Records and to be followed by an extended play next month. First of all, you spent a long time as the percussionist with Jamiroquai. How did reach this juncture where you can express your creativity on your own terms?
Sola Akingbola – Critical Mass is a forum where I can be inspired by and hopefully inspire, the up and coming talented musicians in London. The band keeps me on my toes and demand that I return that energy. Also, I always felt that the UK lacked a band of high quality that reflected the growing confidence and desire of UK Africans to be part of the Uk live music scene. Not as exotic appendages, but as potentially transformative elements of the ever changing UK musical identity.
The single Generation Vex, came out of a series of conversations I had with an amazing social anthropologist –Dr Gillian Evans (Manchester University), about the alternative manner in which young people – the so called disengaged – do politics, through music.
Dr Evans did a vast amount of her fieldwork in and around the council estates of Bermondsey in southeast London. Interviewing young people in the local youth clubs, getting a genuine sense of their anger, resentment and sense of abandonment. But also the way they created their own support networks.
Vex is a word you would hear a lot among the Caribbean’s of London and as you mentioned, “man dey vex oh!” – pidgin amongst the West Africans.
I love the sound of it!
I have been working on a lot of material over the past few years, in between touring and recording with Jamiroquai. As our touring schedule began to ease up, I realized I had a bit of time on my hands –as I am some one who gets bored very quickly-, I set myself the challenge of trying to respond to my question about the quality of UK African bands. If you don’t like something, then try and change it abi?
It’s also easier for me now because my daughter’s school fees are over!!

the anger, resentment and sense of abandonment of young people

When I hear the words Critical Mass, I think power of the crowd, the idea that people are not sheep, and an atomic explosion or singularity. What is the high level concept for your group and why did you pick this name? Is that a purely musical concept or does it tie in with the idea that crowds are driving the change, the Arab Spring, Euromaidan, etc.?
Yes, it does tie in with the people and change or a person and change. Even a deeper personal change in ones mental framing that then has a powerful effect on ones interaction with others. I have been interested for some time in the relationship between Religion and the intellect. Religious ideas and how they have been spread around the world. At what point does the critical faculty stop in order to accommodate faith? Is there a paradox?

How do you function as a group with Michel Castellanos, Will Fry and Jeremiah Olaleye? And with Marco Sandeman, who directed the mindblowing Generation Vex video?
As a group, we are no different to any other group in the sense that when we are all available, we get together and rehearse. I think the only complaint from the guys is that, I never get the music to them before we rehearse, so we are kind of working things out during rehearsals. This will change, I have promised! Michel and Will have very strong Afro-Cuban backgrounds, particularly Michel. When they play together, there is a beautiful unspoken understanding, which is so important. Jeremiah is my Yoruba partner in time.
He has that cultural understanding as a Yoruba, that makes it easy for me to suggest things from that context. They are all really funky cats that can interpret ideas in a contemporary manner, I am lucky.

Which musical space are you trying to reach?
As I mentioned in the beginning, there is a genuine space for really good live acts based in the UK, with that UK / African perspective. There have not been any bands of that caliber since the likes of Osibisa, The Oro Band. Also bands that can match up to the top mainstream acts. The industry has changed considerably, with the Internet we can reach a lot of people.
With the right product and marketing, it’s all open.

we can reach a lot of people

Can you give a bit of context about Generation Vex. U dey vex?
Generation Vex reminds me of the fact that societies all over the world are trying to manage that generational tension. Not just with young people but going through the various age groups, there is always the need and desire to reassess the status quo, re-evaluate the terms of the social agreement. “Is that still working for me this arrangement, or am I ready for change, what am I ready to do for that change” This question can come for anyone at anytime in their lives.

You mention Yoruba influences; can you recommend a few names of Yoruba artists for us to enjoy?
My Yoruba influences are really quite old school: Haruna Isola is a big favourite, Yusuf Olatunji, Isiaka Atanda, The Lijadu sisters, Sunny Ade.
These were the artists my parents listened to. I just loved to see my Mum and Dad dancing to this stuff, so it really seared itself on my memory, but I was always looking for ways to re-interpret their approaches in a 21Century way, if that makes any sense. I guess that’s what most artists are trying to do. There is a Yoruba saying that “there is nothing new under the sun” It’s all been done before, it’s a matter of how you want to scramble your eggs!

Please pick one place in Africa which inspires you.
Dogon in Mali

Critical Mass + Africa = …?

Thank you!

Signature : Cyril Pasteau

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