Baba Kuboye: From Ikoyi, With Horns, Groove And Serenity
If you lived in Nigeria, in the late ‘90s, as a music head, you must have come across The Extended Family Band, a 15-member Jazz ensemble. Led by the visionary Tunde Kuboye, it was the gist of music lovers across the Lagos metropolis, Nigeria’s entertainment capital. Performing at a popular scene, within Jazz 38, an elite club tucked in the highbrow Lekki community, Kuboye and his band continued to bask as an icon for progressive Jazz music in Africa. Related to the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Kuboye bloodline has been an executive chef in the kitchen of African music, especially Jazz and Afrobeat.
Today, Baba Kuboye, born Babatunmida Kuboye, has become the latest force driving the African dream to the shores of reality, with his effervescent Afrobeat discography. The Fela Kuti grandnephew, with his recently released album dubbed, “From Ikoyi With Horns”, forays into the activism rife within his family tree, making a case for the average Nigerian, with his infectious Afrobeat groove.
With a cadence as calm as cold milk, the young maverick shares his backstories with music, growing up with lullabies of Afrobeat; sojourning into Afrobeat, as well as future collaborations with his like-hearted relatives into upholding the legacy of a genre his grandfather began 55 years ago.
Tell us about how you got into music.
I grew up in a home on Awolowo road in Ikoyi that served as both my residential dwelling as well as an event centre/nightclub/art gallery/performance venue. Inside the house was a normal home. However, as soon as I stepped outside my front door into the compound, I would see or hear bands performing to varying audiences on any given day or night of the week. Even when I was asleep at bedtime, the performances going on outside were part of my bedtime lullabies. This venue was called Jazz 38, and it was hosted by my parents (Tunde and Fran Kuboye) who were afro jazz musicians. Many times, my uncle Flea would also come and play at the house. As children do, I would observe and sometimes mimic my parents—copying what they do and adding my own sauce to it. In the course of doing this, I developed an interest in music.
What inspires your style of music?
What inspires me is a combination of what comes naturally to me – and what music I gravitate to. What came naturally to me was picking up the music that existed around me through my parents. Listening to them as well as Fela made original Afrocentric and big band sound (horn sections) a major part of my style.
I also grew up listening to rap music and hip hop. As I hit puberty, my voice broke significantly, and I was gifted with a rich baritone voice. So I played around with wordsmithing as well as rapping, which made way for spoken word to be infused into my music. The final piece to the style is the commercial or club appeal. I noticed that in my own social circles, which were mostly parties or clubs, my parents’ or Fela’s music wasn’t played. I also noticed that live music almost had its own genre/space, whilst recorded music had its own space too. I sought to bridge this gap with my style of music.
Your record, One Day, is the only song that features three generations of the Kuti’s. Tell us about the making of that song.
Technically, that song features 2 generations but three different family members. My late mother and Femi Kuti are cousins of the same generation. I am one generation after them. My mother died when I was a teenager before I could start realising my musical dreams. I wanted to collaborate with her—and the only way I could do that was to sample her vocals posthumously. I took an acapella version of a song off her album called 2nd tier blues. I made a song about hope, which is a message I know she would resonate with. I initially made the song a personal song between me and her—but revised it so that it could serve others too. I also asked Femi Kuti to feature. That is how the song came about.
With your music, you are known for socio-political commentary. Why do you think it is worth it?
We live to serve and help each other, and in my opinion, there is no point in having a platform or a voice if it’s not used to open minds, unfold souls and speak out when necessary. I have a gift of expression. So I use it this way. My performances and musical themes are food for thought or seeds to be planted to help impact positively. This is one of my goals as an artist, to impact culture positively and connect with unconventional themes in my music.
What’s the vision with Baba Kuboye?
To carry on the family legacy in music and be a successful artist. I could define success in a few ways. Success for me is being able to connect and co-exist with every listener in their day-to-day lives through my works. For it to also transcend time beyond now and this generation—to continue to open minds, echo truth, positivity, inspiration, and heal throughout the existence of mankind.
I also define success as my ability to continuously scale my brand whilst attracting and retaining fans.