Based in London, Afriquoi is a UK afro cracking group, with every performer a band leader in their own right. The team stretches in age across three decades, devising from Africa, the Caribbean and the UK. How about that for World Music? They are an underground commotion, bringing an enriching fusion of live African music and electronica. Their masterful five-piece live shows always combine Gambian kora (the KORA is an ancient, and complex instrument from West Africa, shaped like a lute, with a 21 string bridge-harp and played like a harp), Congolese guitar plus Mandinka percussion styles (Mandinka is a drum-like instrument and has a body carved from hardwood and a drumhead made of untreated rawhide and comes from Mali, West Africa), with electronic music drawing on house, hip-hop, soul plus jungle, to produce incredible lock, stock and barrel exceptional vibration.
The music is furious, sometimes deafening and distorted, although it can safely be described as hypnotic, funky and high-spirited, but overwhelming too. One wonder’s how an audience could endure such an onslaught and still be howling for more. On the other hand, it’s a great choice that the Songlines Encounters Festival management included Afriquoi as the closing performance of the festival. From the moment the lights dimmed and the five men appeared on stage there was no let up for the next 80 minutes as they belted out dazzling hit after hit with ageless but ecstatic excitement. And boy-o-boy did the crowd, in the moment believe these guys? They were all jumping, swinging their arms in the air and crying for more. Afriquoi knows how to keep the adrenalin flowing and they more than lived up to their reputation as crowd-pleasers. It was impossible not to admire the energy fueling this festival, especially from an ecstatic close quarter. Here is a question and answer stint with Afriquoi the group.
For anyone that does not already know about Afriquoi, tell us more about the band?
Afriquoi is a cross cultural collaboration based on fusing African music with electronic music. We started by doing some recording sessions in 2011 with Fiston (guitar), Jally (kora) and the marimba player Kudaushe Matimba, who no longer plays with us. These collaborations came about through Wormfood, the promotions company, booking agency +label run by Andre (Afriquoi percussionist - who put the band together). Running regular world music nights every Sunday at Hootenanny in Brixton, Andre got to know virtually all of the UK's African musicians, and so invited a few favourites for a collaboration, bringing in producer Nico Bentley on the controls. We didn't have a set idea of what would happen, we just came to experiment - and Afriquoi was born! Since then we've collaborated with lots of different artists including Jamaican dancehall MCs Serocee + Warrior Queen, but the band has cohered to a regular 5 piece line-up, playing shows across the UK + Europe including Glastonbury, Fusion Festival, Bestival, Secret Garden Party, London Olympics + a ton of others.
Tell us where you guys hail from originally and what instrument or instruments you play and how long you have been playing together?
Jally Kebba Susso, kora, Gambia. Andre Espeut, UK/Martinique, vox. , Fiston Lusambo – Congo. Nico Bentley - UK - production/ MD. Andre Marmot - UK – percussion. Oli Cole - UK - live electronics. We've all been playing together since the act started in 2012, except for Oli Cole - "the kid" - who has just joined us on live electronics replacing Nico. (Nico has just been on tour with Seal and is currently Musical Director for Grace Jones so needed some cover....) Nico will stay involved as Musical Director and main producer.
Why call your group and sound - African-electro dance band? And your group comprises of Africa, the Caribbean and the UK. Do you have a point here?
Ha-ha we don't call it African-electro dance band - you'd have to ask Song lines about that. We just call it music - or 'live African dance music' as we don't like to pigeonhole ourselves... not to one aspect of African music or one aspect of dance music. We just want to make exciting, positive music to make people dance. Yes, we have a point as a group - to draw on the best of African music plus electronic music plus make a new sound that represents the 21st century sound of London.
Afriquoi are a great African-electro dance band with live vocals: Gambian kora, Congolese guitar, percussion and electronics drawing on dubstep, house and hip hop with musicians from Africa, the Caribbean and the UK. However, there must be some challenges, back-biting and the root of collaboration can be a tad tricky? Who is the trouble maker in the group and who is the peace maker? Tell us more about the in-fighting stories?
Ha-ha, we are all a bunch of rascals and ruffians - especially Jally. But we always get on well together and that's one of the things that makes playing together so special. Fiston at 56 has nearly 40 years of professional experience as a musician so we look on him and respect him as a kind of father figure - Papa Fiston. And that's one of the best things about the group - we are different ages, different ethnic and social backgrounds, but we come together and collaborate as equals.
Are you guys still able to make your kind of music sculpted by your original beliefs and not that of your manager or record company or better still for solely what brings in the cash?
Absolutely. We are completely independent and make exactly the music we want to. We all believe that it is only through making music that comes from an authentic place that you have any chance of success.
How do you or the group stay motivated?
Chin-ups, pull-ups plus Fiston's beef brochettes and Andre's roast chicken. No, seriously, we just love playing the music we play and it's always a huge pleasure playing for new audiences and seeing them dancing and smiling and enjoying our music. That's the main motivating factor. It has to be or we might as well be doing something else. Catch us at show at one of the festivals we are playing this summer and see for yourself. Gig schedule is attached.