duke amayo he served as the leader of the group formed in New York in the late 1990s, and through his unique combination of martial art and music, he was able to bring the band’s music to a global audience.
Amayo’s last act as a member of Antibalas was creating the 2020 Grammy-nominated hit album. ‘Fu Chronicles’.
After 23 years of leading the rise of Antibalas and recording 9 full-length albums and performing at over 2,000 shows on 5 continents between 1998 and 2022, including an impressive 4 times at Carnegie Hall, Amayo made the decision to launch a career in solitaire that brought together all the vital aspects of his life and artistic evolution: martial art (Kung Fu), music and fashion.
In this Pulse interview, Duke Amayo tells me about his journey into music, his artistic evolution, being a student of ‘Felalogía’, leading Antibalas to world fame, and the decision to venture out on his own, as well as his upcoming album. . ‘The lion awakes’.
Amayo joined me on a zoom call a few hours before full preparation began for her performance at Felabration 2022. It was the last day of the annual Fela festival which draws artists, creatives, and fans from all over the world, and Amayo is one of the artists performing in the grand finale.
From my screen, I could see Fela’s mural boldly drawn on her T-shirt. Her long dreadlocks were kept in a scarf with an African print. She had a vibrant smile with a sparkle in her eyes.
“Do I use portrait or landscape?” he asked me as he put his phone down on the table in front of him.
“You know, I’m not used to this new iPhone,” Serie.
We settled for portrait mode, which allowed me to get a full view of Amayo’s dreadlocks and T-shirt.
Amayo’s journey into music is lifelong and dates back to when he was a child growing up in Lagos. He was born into a large family of music lovers and as the last brother with a soft young face and a tender voice, Amayo was naturally the Miguel jackson of his family jackson 5.
“I was born into a large family. My mother was the last wife and I was her only child. So my brothers and I imitated the Jackson 5 who were making waves at the time and because I was the youngest I had the best voice. , and he also danced, he was the Michael Jackson of the family”.
Amayo tells me that music came naturally to him and that it was an entrance to the exclusive social events that took place in Lagos before the civil war.
“I remember following my dad and uncles to events and at the door, they’d ask me to dance. Every time I dance like James Brown either michael jacksonWe were always allowed into events, so I was able to see several great artists perform during those days.”
Amayo’s life, like that of millions of other Nigerians, will be affected by the Nigerian civil war that lasted 30 months between 1967 and 1970. As the civil war continued, Amayo and her family moved to Ghana and that’s where she acquired another artistic career. element that will come to mold his art and his music. Amayo recalls how he was drawn to martial arts while in Ghana, where on weekends, the farm he lived on held sparring matches for the children.
“When my family moved to Ghana during the Civil War, the property we lived in used to have these weekend fights where the kids train in Kung Fu and martial arts. There were no street fights and any disagreements you have You wait until the weekend and I set it up in the arena. That’s how I got interested in Kung Fu and it continued after we got back to Lagos.”
After the Civil War ended, Amayo’s family returned to Nigeria and during that time, he was able to see the great American musician. James Brown play live and that was a turning point for him. Seeing tens of thousands of people packed into the stadium to see James Brown and as a child, he had to climb a tree to see James Brown in all the greatness of him, and that sight sparked something in Amayo.
“I got to see a lot of great artists perform. I remember Stevie Wonder and James Brown a lot. For James Brown, I was still a little boy and my parents didn’t want me to join the crowd in the stadium, but I ran away.” and I climbed a tree to see it. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see live the artist I imitated every day.”
Amayo’s love of Kung Fu and music continued after he left Nigeria as a teenager to attend Howard University. He tells me that his journey to become part of the Bulletproof group began in New York City in the late 1990s, where he ran a fashion store that fuses Africanism with Kung Fu in what he describes as Afrofuturism. . The uniqueness of his art was what attracted the first members of the Bulletproof gang and was what marked the beginning of his entry into the gang.
“When I was in New York, two white guys showed up one day and they loved some of the prints. You know, I was selling Kung Fu outfits but with a twist of African prints. It was unique and different. It was through this that They told me about their music and their plans to form a band.”
Amayo tells me that he knew that without a black man, it would be difficult for the group to do Fela’s Afrobeat. He believes there is a spirit behind Fela’s Afrobeat and for the group to make that music, he needed the identity that only a black man who can tap into that spirit can provide.
While various Nigerian artists of different generations are fascinated by Fela, Amayo seems to have a dedication and understanding that extends beyond artistic admiration.
“I’m a student of ‘Phellalogy'”, he said excitedly before proceeding to tell me how Fela’s Afrobeat was driven by a different spirit and he didn’t think it was right to simply replicate it thousands of miles away in a climate where socio-cultural realities were different.
“When they told me to join the band, it was me and my friend. My friend finds it strange that some white men wanted to do Afrobeat and he wasn’t interested. I find the idea interesting because he already had plans to make music, so So I decided that if I came on board, I would bring my special touch instead of just trying to replicate what Fela did.”
Amayo tells me how he brought the spirit of Kung Fu and mixed Afrobeat and other sounds. It was with this special sound that Antibalas was able to bring his Afrobeat sound to listeners across the United States and beyond.
Doing Afrobeat in a soundscape where that sound is completely foreign to primary consumers required a great deal of creativity to make the music appealing. I asked Amayo how Antibalas was able to achieve this and he told me that it was about creating a sound that speaks to the soul of the listeners.
“Music needs to speak to your soul and sometimes it can just be the drums or the strings that connect with your spirit. So we took all these different instruments from Africa, Latin America and beyond and put them together in a different way.” .parts speak to the soul of the listeners.”
After 23 years of leading the rise of Antibalas and recording 9 full-length albums and performing at over 2,000 shows on 5 continents between 1998 and 2022, including an impressive 4 times at Carnegie Hall, Amayo made the decision to launch a career in solitaire that brought together all the vital aspects of his life and artistic evolution: martial art (Kung Fu), music and fashion. I asked him what motivated this decision and he tells me that he made the decision a long time ago but that he finally decided after taking out the Grammy nominees. ‘Chronicles of Fu’.
“Since around 2010, I had been planning to have my band and create my kind of music. You see, ‘Fu Chronicles’ was born out of my desire to merge Kung Fu and music. After the album, I decided it was time to finally start. my band.”
Amayo’s band is simply called ‘AMAYO’ meaning – If you don’t go, you’ll never know. He has managed to join forces with old friends some of whom he played with as part of Bulletproof. His band features shekere, guitar, bass, flute, violin, drums, percussion, and trumpets. Amayo’s songs guide people through the Kung Fu movements and stories of the Edo and Ife kingdoms of Nigeria.
He tells me that his band is coming together and that they are not primarily concerned with creating a special label, as they are driven by the same artistic spirit.
“The band is coming together. You know, it’s some of the guys I knew from the band, so we didn’t bother to think of a name. They like to be described as Amayo because it captures the spirit of the music. ”
Like an Orisha anointed “Awo” Amayo sings traditional Nigerian spirituals and stories that have been passed down in a sacred lineage. Amayo has been a senior teacher (Sifu) of the Jow Ga Kung Fu School of martial arts since 1982 and performs the traditional Chinese lion dance as a greeting ritual to start his stage performances to bring good fortune to the audience.
Amayo is ready to release a new album that calls ‘The Lion Awakens’. About the new album, he tells me that it is a special music that gave listeners a glimpse with ‘Chronicles of Fu’. The album will be released with her new band and will showcase different elements of her art, including infusing some feminism into her music that isn’t limited to backing tracks and dancers. Her fashion is inspired by her mother, whose outfits she reused in her stage clothes.
“I write songs about social justice, gender equality, and other conscious topics, but I do it in my own unique style. Some of the clothes I wear on stage are my late mother’s outfits that I just repurposed, so I think her spirit He is always with me.”
During the nearly 40-minute interview, Amayo’s phone rang three times, each time a reminder that she had a performance to prepare for.
Before wrapping up the interview, we discussed the strides Afrobeats are making globally and I asked Amayo how he thinks the Nigerian music industry should ensure that the Afrobeats rise story is truly Nigerian.
He tells me that it is first about understanding that the African elements make up the sound and then we can always know that no matter what, the sound can never be stolen, as the African element can never be perfectly recreated.
“The younger generation needs to understand the African sound that makes Afrobeats what they are. The West can say it’s influenced by hip hop and pop, but without that African sound, there can be no Afrobeats. Once you understand the African sound, no one can take the sound away.”
His philosophical response just as he had for most of the interview. a student of ‘Fellalogy’. That explains everything.