Kola Gbedu Ogunkoya

Nigeria 2007

By Carol Hills

June 10, 2009

Nigeria is home to one of the most popular musical styles in Africa. It's called "Afrobeat." Its creator and most famous practitioner was the late Fela Kuti. But Afrobeat still looms large in today's Nigeria. The World's Carol Hills recently travelled to Lagos. She has this profile of a Nigerian musician who wants to take Afrobeat in a new direction.

When you've been in a chaotic mega-city like Lagos for all of two days and you're sitting in the lobby of your hotel, waiting for some musician to show up who was suggested by some other guy you just met 24 hours earlier over the phone, well, you're not exactly sure there's going to be much of a story.

Then in walks a well-dressed man wearing dark glasses. He's followed by a guy barely out of his teens, carrying a saxophone... Very carefully.

"My name is Kola Ogunkoya and I play music.. Afro beat.. you know."

Kola Ogunkoya is better known by his stage name: the "Gbedu Master". Gbedu means "big drum" and drums and percussion feature big in his music. Kola Ogunkoya is a big guy with an imposing physique. He looks like he could throw a punch or two.

Turns out he has... As a teenager, he was a successful amateur boxer. At one point, he was all set to represent Nigeria in the Olympics but his father disapproved. So, Ogunkoya turned to music, singing and playing trumpet in his local church.

Then, in the early 1980s, came a dream apprenticeship... With Fela Kuti's Egypt 80 band. And he fell in love with Afrobeat.

“Yeah... the only way you listen to Afrobeat same thing you're going to notice in my music: the horn section, the brass, the saxophone, plus the percussion, the African talking drums and all that...yeah"

Kola Ogunkoya spent his early years experimenting with other West African musical styles as well, like juju, fuji and highlife...

Today, almost two decades and 8 CDs later, Ogunkoya says he's trying to synthesize all his musical influences into a single sound.He calls it Afro-Gbedu.

"What I'm doing now is I'm trying come altogether and be one. “My music now is like love be happy..because NIgeria is so tough."

Kola Ogunkoya is in Lagos now but he also has a home in the Washington DC area.
"I love living in the US but it's so difficult to put my band together in the US 200 piece down here whereas in US I have six-piece band."

Also, in the US, things just cost more. He has to pay $400 an hour for rehearsal space plus the per hour cost of each musician. Here in Lagos, he can pay a flat rate of $30 per musician for the whole rehearsal and he owns his own club.
So, he'll stay in Lagos for a while, gigging and getting ready to record another CD, due out this summer.

For The World, I'm Carol Hills, Lagos, Nigeria

Listen to Hills' report for BBC/PRI's "The World."