Interviews April 5, 2024
Dele Sosimi Talks Afrobeat: From Fela Kuti to the Future

The lights dimmed inside London's legendary Jazz Cafe, the air thick with anticipation. A melting pot of Londoners – longtime Afrobeat devotees, curious newcomers, and those simply seeking a good time – had come to witness a clash of generations. On the bill: Stella & The Longos, the Paris-based upstarts fusing Congolese rumba with funk and a dash of psychedelia, followed by the undeniable force of nature, Dele Sosimi. A former keyboardist for Fela Kuti himself, Sosimi carries the torch of Afrobeat while infusing it with his own vibrant energy.

After Stella & The Longos had the crowd thoroughly warmed up (and thoroughly sweaty), Sosimi took the stage. And, just as you can't summarize Fela Kuti's legacy in a sentence, it's hard to contain Dele Sosimi's performance in words. But backstage, after the show, Afropop Worldwide's Uwati Okojie managed to snag the maestro for a quick chat, asking not just about his latest album, "Stories," but about a lifetime of defying musical boundaries.

NOTE: Dele Sosimi and The Esturay 21 released the album The Confluence on April 5, and it's fantastic!


Uwati: The audience was on their feet the entire time! What does it feel like to share that energy with your band?

Dele Sosimi: It's rare to see that kind of connection – the audience wasn't just watching, they were part of the music. These guys, they know what they're doing, they love what they're doing, and they are for real. It's difficult to find that nowadays when so much music feels superficial, artificial. We ain't pressing no buttons. We're doing it from the bottom of our hearts. We love what we do, and that shows.

You can tell they're in the zone. Once I'm there, it's a whole different world. I don't remember my troubles, I'm not worried about anything. The minute I'm on that stage, it's like, oh, free at last. Pure joy.

Dele Sosimi Live by Uwati Kojie
Dele Sosimi Live by Uwati Kojie

I can definitely see that. And you're London-based?

That’s right.

Your audience must have changed a lot over time. How do you find playing for today’s London crowd?

The energy of London is unique, and it definitely feeds my sound. I still love what I do. I'm not doing it for accolades. I'm doing it because I'm delivering the message. It's a message, you're just a messenger, it doesn't make you special. I'm just privileged to be able to deliver a beautiful message that people can come hear and for a moment, forget everything that is horrible, any pain or strife. They can just lose themselves in the music and get some healing. Music heals the soul and body.

Tell me a bit about what led you to this point.

I used to work with Femi [Fela Kuti] from the age of 15. Femi and I were schoolmates.

(Fela Kuti (1938-1997) was a Nigerian musician, bandleader, and activist. He's considered the pioneer of Afrobeat, a genre blending West African music with funk, jazz, and political messages.)
(Fela Kuti (1938-1997) was a Nigerian musician, bandleader, and activist. He's considered the pioneer of Afrobeat, a genre blending West African music with funk, jazz, and political messages.)

What was your relationship with Femi like?

Femi knew I was a good influence. You know there are certain friends your parents look at and say, “She's going to get you in trouble one day, mark my words”, and then there was me. I was the guy to keep in your life – “That boy, that's a good one”-- because from the minute I entered his life, we would still go to parties, but Femi would always have a saxophone. On our way, we’d stop and jam with some musicians, playing jazz somewhere, you know.

How have those times influenced you in the present?

Back then, Wednesday: rehearsal, Thursday: rehearsal, Friday: show, Saturday: show, Sunday: show, Monday: payday, Tuesday: ladies’ night, the ladies coming free and everybody's like, “I'm going to be on my best, I'm going to dress the best, I may get lucky!” That kind of energy, that constant drive to create and perform, it stuck with me.

Fela’s Unrelenting Drive: Fela Kuti was famous for performing multiple times a week at his Lagos venue, The Shrine. His intense musical output mirrored his passionate activism against corruption and injustice.

So, that's why nowadays I have different formats. I have the quartet, the quintet, the sextet, the Afrobeat Orchestra which is a minimum of nine of us on stage, then I have the CubAfroBeat…

Exploring Dele's Sound

Afrobeat Foundations:

Album: You No Fit Touch Am (Wah Wah 45s) - This is a classic Dele Sosimi Afrobeat album with a large ensemble.

Cuban Collaboration

Album: Identidad (Wah Wah 45s) - His CubAfrobeat project, blending Cuban rhythms and Afrobeat sensibilities.

Credit: Siobhan Bradshaw
Credit: Siobhan Bradshaw

Electronic Exploration

Album: Turbulent Times (Live) [Dele Sosimi meets Medlar] - Features electronic beats, synths, and Dele's signature Afrobeat energy.

Credit: Wah Wah 45s
Credit: Wah Wah 45s

Sounds like you like to mix things up a little when you’re performing. Can you elaborate on why that’s so important to your practice as an artist?

If you're not playing live, you're losing touch. One, your message is not getting through. And when you get the download, wherever that inspiration comes from, if you don't deliver the message, if you don't let it out, the new ones cannot come in. That's why Fela was so consistent.

How do you see your evolution as an artist reflected in your music?

If you look at Fela’s music, for example, from the ‘70s – no, let's say ‘69 – up to the ‘90s before he died, you see the evolution. It's like plotting a graph: the dynamics, the richness, the way the music breathes... The instruments, they aren't just playing together, they caress each other. It's like watching the perfectly synchronized gears of a Rolls Royce engine. That's how I see the best Afrobeat.

A few times you've mentioned a message in your music. Is there something specific you’re trying to get across to your audiences?

Just live and let live. When the music hits you, don’t fight it. It's an out-of-body experience. You don't want to be greedy, keep it to yourself – you want to share it. For me, music is like the way you teach music, too. Whatever knowledge you gain, you should be happy to share it freely. The more you share, the more you receive in return. That's my belief.

In terms of this new generation, what advice would you pass on to young musicians finding their voice?

React naturally to things. Don't be afraid to take risks, ask questions, and follow your inspiration wherever it leads! People fear failure, but that shouldn't hold you back. You've got an idea? Even if your record label says no, if you believe in it, trust yourself! Be what you truly are. Love what you do with all your heart.


And I love being based here in London. It's allowed me to be a beacon, to help people learn the basics of Afrobeat, the rudiments of it. I teach at places like Rose Bruford College – I'm one of their visiting professors, and they've now given me a fellowship – and next week I'm off to Cardiff University for a masterclass. The students will even join me on stage to perform!

Speaking of those you teach, when you reflect on your own legacy what comes to mind?

Experiment! But never forget to look to your past, it's the foundation for your progress. Learn! I started with pure Afrobeat. If you check Spotify or Instagram, when you see all the songs I've done... Damn, did I create all of this? It was a lot, but I’ve been doing this for at least 45 of my 61 years, so why the hell not? Sometimes you’ve got to clap for yourself.

A lot of people measure success by how much money you have. No. Are you happy with what you're doing? Did you see me on stage? I was gone, lost in the music. I don't even have to look down at my keys. The inspiration just comes and I'm one with the instrument. God, thank you for this blessing. I just love it.

Incredible. What does the future hold for Dele Sosimi the artist?

I've been playing at the Jazz Cafe since 1999. So many sold-out shows! Now, I have the freedom to play exactly how I want. Next week it's a quartet, then a project with Cubans... Then there's Medley! My electronic side with synthesizers, drum machines, a completely different sound. I'm really exploring and refusing to limit myself. I'm just open to it all.

Thank you, Dele, I appreciate the time. Our London readers can catch you in September at Village Underground for Wah Wah 45s’ 25th Anniversary.

Thank you! And remember, whether you're a musician or a listener, never limit yourself. Explore the music that moves you, and above all, find joy in what you do. That's where the true power lies.

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African Legends: Remembering Fela
Afropop Classic November 2, 2023
African Legends: Remembering Fela
Contemporary Nigerian artists and others recall the man, the music and the legacy of Nigeria's greatest musician.

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