The `Afrosoul' king

Adesiji `Siji' Awoyinka brings the sounds of Africa to Western music at Naija Fest

August 09, 2007|By Matt Vensel | Matt Vensel,Sun reporter

Moving from England to Nigeria and back again would be a bit of culture shock for most, but for singer, songwriter and producer Adesiji "Siji" Awoyinka, the meshing of two vastly different cultures was the impetus of his musical career.

Moving around "gave me a broad perspective, a broad palette from which to draw from," Siji said.

The soft-spoken musician, who plays the Naija Fest on Saturday, was born in London to Nigerian parents, but was raised for most of his childhood in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria and also a hot spot of the African music scene.

"Back in the '70s, Lagos was very vibrant, popular, colorful," Siji said. "I sucked up the atmosphere I grew up in and found a way to put it into my music."

While growing up in Lagos, Siji was exposed to the music of his countrymen, but he had a great affection for his father's music collection from London. That music found its way into his psyche and life, he said.

In 1986, Siji returned to London to get his master's degree in engineering design, and his interest in music continued to blossom. After graduating in 1995, he decided he would rather be a musician than an engineer - against his parents' wishes.

"Music was not initially supported by my parents, but I got my degree, did what I wanted to do, and that was that," he said.

While Siji was inspired by the music of Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Al Green, among many others, he was also influenced by Afrobeat, a hybrid mix of jazz, soul and African music. However, Siji attempted to buck the trend of African artists aiming for a more Western sound. Instead, he said that he tried to bring more African sounds to music. The result is a distinctive sound - "Afrosoul," as Siji likes to call it - which can best be described as soul heavily influenced by African rhythms.

After his successful debut EP Facets and his first single, "My Lover's Embrace," in 1997, Siji landed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music - and approval from his parents, who embraced his musical career.

The next year, he returned to Nigeria for his first performance in his homeland, an event he cites as one of the highlights of his career.

"It was something I always wanted to do," Siji said. "It was nice to share my gift as an artist with my people. It was a childhood dream."

Siji was on the move again in 2001 - this time for New York City - after his career had started to stagnate in the London music scene. He has since worked with a number of musicians, producers and disc jockeys, including Salif Keita, King Britt, Vinia Mojica, Wunmi, Rich Medina and Osunlade.

"I jumped at the chance to come out here and meet people," Siji said. "It's a melting pot. It was fun to share my music with folks I met in New York."

Siji is putting the finishing touches on a new, still-untitled album to be released later this year and will follow that with a national and global tour. In the meantime, he is in town for a Saturday evening performance at Naija Fest, a two-day festival celebrating the music, cuisine and culture of Africa.

"We liked the fact that he brings elements of African culture to the festival," Naija Fest entertainment coordinator Tolu Olumide said. "We thought it was a nice touch to bring the soulful side of African music."

Siji sees Naija Fest as an opportunity to raise awareness of his music among the Nigerian population and to celebrate the culture he was submerged in as a child.

"The performance will be a vibrant, exciting show," Siji said. "It's a celebration of life and music."

matt.vensel@baltsun.com

Naija Fest is Saturday and Sunday at Patterson Park, Eastern and Linwood avenues. Festival hours are noon-8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children younger than 10. For more information, call 410-608-0420 or go to naijafest.org.

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