Keeping the Message That's Old and New; Martin Longley Sounds out the Yoruba Jazz People, Due on Sunday at the MAC

Article excerpt

The West African Yoruba people have arguably provided 20th Century popular music with its most importance source, from the roots of North American jazz, blues, soul and funk (not to mention rock 'n' roll) to its spreading across South America and the Caribbean, resulting in everything from reggae to samba, calypso to Cuban son.

Of course, most of the time this transplanted music of the slaves collided with any available European lineage: waltzes, quadrilles, flamenco, hillbilly music, creating an unending flow of hybrid forms, making it very hard to define simple lines of descent.

Just looking at Cuba, Haiti and Brazil, we can see how the original Yoruba spirituality of Ifa sprouted new branches of its core religion, going undercover in the face of Catholicism, resulting in Santeria, vodou and Candomble respectively.

It's against this huge backdrop that London-based percussionist and composer Sola Akingbola formed his Yoruba Jazz People, just under a year ago. It's easier for him to research Yoruba compositions dating from the 1930s onwards, whether passed down orally, lifted from old pop vinyl or from hardcore ethno field recordings.

Part of the band's programme is to investigate the work of more recent composers in the tradition, such as John Coltrane, Fela Kuti and Wayne Shorter. Akingbola also used to draw on his parents' record collection for inspiration, dipping into their King Sunny Ade treasure trove.

"I'm trying to approach it from my own musical experience here in the UK," he says.

"I've grown up here, even though I was born in Nigeria. I'm still keeping the lyrical content and the philosophical messages behind the old songs, seeing if I can bridge the gap between the old and the new. My two daughters attend a school which is about 40 per cent Yoruba.

The funny thing is, they don't really acknowledge their Yoruba side in school. …