By: Greg Zilboorg
This is a statement regarding the article written on The Sogo Takeover that appeared in The Eye on 4/3/2012. The Sogo Takeover appreciates the Eye’s journalistic support, but there was one sentence that I felt misrepresented the intention and nature of The Sogo Takeover, and I want to take this opportunity to address these issues.
The sentence in question reads as follows:
“The amoeba-life of Takeover reflects its improvisational nature, building in the tradition of Fela Kuti, most notably, and more locally Alfred Ladzekpo, the Ewe drum master…”
“The amoeba-life of Takeover reflects its improvisational nature”: this part of the sentence is true and I have no issues there.
“…building in the tradition of Fela Kuti, most notably…”: somewhat true. Our music owes a great deal to Fela, and there is some kind of historical/sociopolitical/musical relationship but I don’t think we are “building in his tradition”; the social and political context of our music is too different for that. In my estimation, to build on Fela’s tradition, you would need not only to have a band, but to fulfill his legacy as a political voice and leader, which the band doesn’t really do. On top of which, we’re Americans, not Africans, and there is something uniquely African about Fela’s message and style that we should not pretend to imitate. I’m mainly concerned with this because I want to avoid confusion and misperception.
“…and more locally Alfred Ladzekpo, the Ewe drum master”: this is also a tricky one for a few reasons. 1) Alfred’s music is not improvisational. It’s a common misconception that it is, but I remember him specifically making the distinction between what he does as a lead drummer and what we, in the world of western academics, would call “improvisation.” 2) Alfred’s relationship to the band is somewhat less direct than this sentence makes it seem overall.
Here’s my take: What we do in terms of the structure of our music is quite different than the structure of Ewe music in it’s content, style, and how it is composed/taught/and learned by the musicians who play it. The structure of our music does, however, bear similarities because many members of the band have studied with Alfred in some capacity. A few members have studied with him quite intensively, in the percussion section especially. These players bring some quotes/figures from Ewe music into our improvisations, and many of their contributions bear resemblance to what they learned from Alfred in terms of style/phrasing.
It’s important to note, however, that these “Ewe-isms,” if you will, are happening on what I would call a superficial level. To me, that means we use some of the figures, and even some of the instruments, but the overall form of the music in terms of its musicological structure is quite distinct from Ewe music and, indeed, different from African music in general. I think it’s really important that our listeners understand this to avoid misconceptions about our music. What we are doing is not African, it’s American. The truth is, afrobeat is a fishy term, and if I often regret having chosen to classify ourselves in this genre it is because it projects a set of assumptions onto our music that are often hurtful. It was my intent that the use of the prefix “afro” would indicate the recognition of the inclusion of certain afro-centric trends in our music. Our music could not, like almost all North American music, be what it is without the cultural contributions of the people of the African Diaspora. I’d like to doubly emphasize that our music probably has more to do with music of the African Diaspora as it played out in North/South America than with traditional African music. In terms of its economic, social, and political realities, it is 100% corn-fed American. I want to be open about that fact, acknowledge the musicians who came before me who influenced my sound, and give credit and respect where they are due. It seems, regrettably, that instead people take the term to mean that what we do somehow represents African culture, music, or identity, which is patently untrue. The Sogo Takeover does owe a great debt to artists such as Fela Kuti and Alfred Ladzekpo, but we are by no means the keepers of their flame; we have our own fire.
Main Honcho of Things, The Sogo Takeover