‘Our ethos was happy music and good vibes’: genre-busting Black British band Osibisa

‘Our ethos was happy music and good vibes’: genre-busting Black British band OsibisaApril 29, 2021

Jimi Hendrix watched them rehearse, Stevie Wonder joined them on drums, and Fela Kuti partied with them in Lagos. Osibisa, whose African sunshine sound captivated the planet, have now returned

Two Ghanian pensioners are discussing how they first met, almost 60 years ago, in London’s Soho jazz scene. Teddy Osei, a saxophonist and drummer, and Lord Eric Sugumugu, a percussionist, forged a friendship “playing among the diaspora”. Sugumugu had a gig with Ginger Johnson and His African Messengers, while Osei played with Dudu Pukwana, the great South African jazz saxophonist. Sugumugu is ebullient, leaping out of his seat to exclaim about their role in making the 60s swing: among many other things, he was part of an African drum troupe the Rolling Stones employed at their 1969 Hyde Park concert. Although Osei wasn’t there himself, he did join the Stones to perform Brown Sugar on Top of the Pops.

Osei, aged 87, is a stroke survivor, his voice rarely rising above a whisper. But with a new album out, he wants to tell his story as an unsung pioneer: as founder and leader of the band Osibisa. Best known for their two mid-70s hits Sunshine Day and Dance the Body Music, Osibisa never conformed to genre, mixing Ghanian highlife music with jazz, soul and rock, and later funk and disco. This hybrid music, drawing from across the diaspora, is exactly what you hear in today’s young Black British stars performing drill, Afro-swing and Afrobeats.

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