ONIPA’s “Tapes Of Utopia” channels Afrofuturism and the influence of African mix tapes: NPR



ONIPA: (Singing in a language other than English).


ONIPA means human in one of the ancient languages ​​of Ghana and is also the name of a musical ensemble based in London. Their new album, “Tapes Of Utopia”, celebrates the collaborative spirit and eclectic sound of mix tapes sold in many African markets. It can be a mix of old and new, traditional African percussion and electronic music, interwoven with proverbial rap stories they call Afrofuturism. The conductors, KOG and Tom Excell, are now joining us from London. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.

TOM EXCELL: Thanks, Scott.

KOG: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: Let me start with you, if we can, KOG I don’t want to launch the term afrofuturism without asking exactly what it means.

KOG: Well, Afrofuturism gives us a platform using the imagination. We project the future through an African lens, project an African tradition, an African culture, an African social life, an African policy and style. We feel, through our music and our imagination, the idealisms and values ​​of Africa in the diaspora.

SIMON: Well, there is a story with every song. And I want to play a bit of what has become my favorite, “Chicken No Dey Fly”.

EXCELLENT: Good. Good choice.


ONIPA: (Rapper) Feel a new beginning when the wind blows. Still, I’m on the brink, then. Slide in the middle of a chasm. Still, I’m a king, never darken though. Feel it in the air, feel the wind blow. Look for the chain through the window. Change really never lets me think so. The struggle, the struggle all life. So it doesn’t matter with the (unintelligible) the whole (unintelligible). Dude, I ran it, in it, all night. Tell a (unintelligible) woman that everything is fine. All eyes on the commotion, discussing the whole prize.

SIMON: The video is worth watching (laughs) with everyone dressed up as chicken.


SIMON: Tom Excell, that’s a proverb, isn’t it?

EXCELL: Yeah, Chicken no dey fly says chicken can just focus on eating grains and not really see much around. But suddenly, when problems arise, they can spread their wings and fly away. And I think there’s a lot of metaphors in the video and in the song about some of the troubled times that we go through and not always having our heads down and feeding on the grain and looking around and trying to find ways to fly to escape some of life’s adversities.

SIMON: Yeah, and it’s sung for a single egg in a box.

KOG: (Laughs) You know, I come from a society – I come from Ghana, and I come from a society where, you know, politics have been fully played – you know, corruption. And you know, then, growing up around very, like political songs – Fela Kuti – they used art, you know, as the best way to, you know, communicate their messages. And the use of proverbs and riddles has always been part of African literature, really. And incorporating it into music is also a really nice way to express art without prompting or, like, inciting anything, but just using the art to tickle people’s minds, it’s about time. let people wake up a bit and look around.


ONIPA: (Singing in a language other than English).

SIMON: And let me ask you a question about the mix you have in the band – four band members. Three are British. And you, KOG, are Ghanaian. Do you each represent something? Does it all fall apart when you make music together?

EXCELL: I think for myself, speaking as a white British member of the band, I don’t really connect with my own personal cultural baggage as British music. All the music that I love has its roots in black music. In fact, I grew up listening to a lot of African records. My father started collecting African records thanks to John Peel and Andy Kershaw. It has always been the music of my childhood, the soundtrack of my growing life that I connected with and as I got older and started to get into music more seriously I tried to study and meet more African musicians and travel to Africa to collaborate and learn.

SIMON: Yeah. KOG, this mix is ​​important for everyone in the group, I guess.

KOG: We revel in and kind of appreciate that we’re a very different bunch of people. It brings so much magic because we have a really different reality – we think differently. But then the beauty of when we sit down to make music from everyone’s influence and everyone’s journey, really – that’s why, really, the background – it doesn’t. doesn’t matter to us. But then the story of each individual is what matters. Your story that you have to offer to the world is greater than your color.

SIMON: Another song that we want to listen to with you, if we can, and it’s “Porridge”.


ONIPA: (Singing in a language other than English)

SIMON: KOG, why porridge?

KOG: (Laughs) Tom, why did we name this song “Porridge”? When I was young, one of the government officials in our village – he came with a Fiat Punto. And then the following year he just bought like a big and massive Range Rover.

SIMON: Well, a year of public service was very good …

KOG: Yeah (laughs).

SIMON: … Good to him, I guess.

KOG: Exactly. So – and you have – what? – the porridge. When are things going to change? It all comes from my upbringing and where I lived, how I grew up. I use this in.


ONIPA: (Singing) Aweh, aweh, Yahweh, Yahweh, aweh, Yahweh, aweh, ooh.

KOG: What is it – Yahweh, Yahweh. Yahweh is – like, we speak – is all the old Hebrew word for God. It’s only the God in the universe who – only Yahweh, Yahweh knows how it’s going to end.


ONIPA: (Singing) We’re here. We have to see the future.

SIMON: You have the song “Future”.


ONIPA: (Singing) We’re here. We have to see the future.

SIMON: Based on what we’ve all learned over the last almost two years, how do – what do you see in the future for art, music, us?

EXCELL: There is a powerful message in this song for us because the kids of Kweku are singing in the intro of this song, and I also have a child on the way. And I think reading the future right now seems almost impossible to me. But there is a burning desire in us and in the message of music to try to create the best possible future for the next generation.


KOG: Yeah, I’m so positive. Even having my kids is the most exciting thing as things are temporary because no condition is ever permanent. And things can look pretty blurry. And we try to have this vision of a future that everyone can prosper. Everybody’s equal. Everyone is free, you know, to be able to be independent and to think for themselves.

SIMON: KOG, Tom Excell. ONIPA’s new album is “Tapes Of Utopia”. Thank you both very much for being with us.

KOG: Oh, thanks so much for having us guys.

EXCELL: Thank you very much. It was a real pleasure.


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