Keziah Jones is a Nigerian-born musician, performer, and artist. His music carries strong influences from Jimi Hendrix, Fela Kuti, as well as Sakara music. Jones left his birthplace Nigeria at the age of eight to study at a boarding school in London. In his teenage years, he began causing a stir in the underground scene in the city with his gigs in Covent Garden and Portbello Road. He released his first album Bluefunk Is a Fact! in 1992.
With his mastery of the guitar and an unmistakable voice, Keziah Jones has grown to become a massively popular and successful musician. We spoke with him about his style, musical taste and the stories behind his music.
Please introduce yourself and what you do.
My name is Olufemi Olusiji Sanyaolu, publicly known as Keziah Jones. I’m a musician/composer/line drawing artist and sometimes a writer and photographer
You’ve been talked about as a proper guitarist, someone who understands and values the technicality of the instrument. How important is this technical knowledge when creating music?
I wouldn’t say I am a “proper guitarist” as I’m not that technical. But, within my limitations I’ve found a way to express my own view of how a guitar could be played. In this case, as a percussion instrument instead of a melodic accompaniment to the voice. I started music playing piano and then moved onto Spanish acoustic guitar, so I would say my understanding of the guitar ultimately came from the piano, which is the principle of dampened hammers hitting strings.
You call your upbringing transnational, growing up in London with Nigerian heritage. How do you think these different cultural experiences have shaped your creativity and outlook?
Having a hybrid understanding of how cultures work together or against each another has helped me in terms of my understanding of where and who I am at as an individual, one who isn’t constrained by the Nigerian or European heritage. In terms of perception, it makes for a slight melancholy in outlook which I guess is useful for song writing. I would say a hybrid cultural experience has been the defining aspect of my art, the desire to understand what makes us all so similar or different and how this is expressed.
U.Mi-1 shares your vision of connecting different people and cultures through art. How do you balance your different cultural and artistic inspirations when you are making art?
Well… I don’t think it’s something I am aware of during writing, or when I draw, or perform. However, afterwards when I begin to edit, I can say these things do come into play. I try to definitely declare my intentions through the use of extensive rhythm or percussion or the guitar and through word play or onomatopoeia in my lyrics. I would say I make art that first speaks to me as an individual, and one that also somehow speaks to the experience of others.
Like your Yoruba influences, U.Mi-1 also takes inspiration from Nigerian culture to reinterpret it for modern times. Are there any examples of Nigerian music you have incorporated into your music?
My father listened to a lot of “Sakara” music when I was a child and because of him I got into it. So, in my music this became expressed as a strong call and response element and a wailing voice like sound on the guitar. During African Space Craft album, I used a lot of these ideas and I was inspired by Yusuf Olatunji. Later on in my Black Orpheus album I used a lot of references/tropes from Fela Kuti.
What role does fashion play in your performance and everyday life? Is there a difference?
I like to think there really isn’t. What I wear in daily life I also tend to wear on stage. Bright colours, strong lines, a hat, sometimes a scarf. I go for sharp defining lines as I am quite lean. The visual aspect of performance is just as important as the performance itself as it tends to signal or declare intention. The same goes for everyday life. The clothes you wear and how you wear them determine how others initially perceive you.
How would you define your style and how does U.Mi-1 fit into your wardrobe?
My style evolved from practical considerations. A hat some solid shoes, normally boots, a scarf, sharp lines, colour contrasts or variations on these elements. The navy linen suit I got from U.Mi-1 does this nicely as does the brown funky jacquard suit. If I was to define my style, I would say it is practical yet chic, functional yet formal in a way. I wear clothes that help solve the problem of navigating the stage and the world outside it.
What projects are you currently working on/working on next?
I am working on my next album. I’ve also got an art project involving the use of the African musical archives which I’m quite excited about.
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