Jah Baba wants to reach out to the people of Africa and the world with his unique blend of African rhythms and jazz.
For African jazz musician Jah Baba, music is a universal language, able to create a deep, common connection to rival birth place or even blood. In an interview with Kreol he explained how he intends to use his music to reach out to his global audience and spread love and greater understanding.
Home? West Africa or where you are and who you are with.
Originally from Nigeria, Jah Baba has been part of Benin’s thriving jazz scene for many years, interspersing gigs in the capital, Lagos, with world tours and performances at jazz festivals such as the tenth International Jazz Festival in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in January 2016. But Jah Baba believes that home is a greater concept than simply one of where you are from, and more of a case of who you’re connecting with: “Everywhere is my home in Africa, because any place I can feel very much at my ease, is my home. Anybody I can talk to, anybody I can share music or anything with, is my brother.”
Jah Baba is similarly hesitant to adhere to narrow labels some might want to put on his music: “It depends what you feel when you’re listening to the music. But for me, I’m calling it African jazz music.” His influences span the African continent, but are especially strong in West Africa: “My music is traditional music, it’s our ancestral music. I play some music, some rhythm from Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, any country in Africa because there is a very close relationship between all the rhythms that we have in Africa, especially in West Africa.”
Melding people with music
While his roots and passion lie in Africa, Jah Baba hopes his musical message will touch listeners worldwide and give them all a taste of the rhythms of his home continent. He explains, “I take the common points of all the rhythms, and put some jazz note on it to let people who are not really from Africa to get close to that music and at the same time to touch that wonderful thing we have in Africa”, he explains.
He recalls one recent gig he played in the United States which made him realise, “How music can cross cultures and find a way speak to people. I played the first tune, and the second one, and the third one. Nobody say anything, no applause. Nothing. And when I was about to start the fourth one, they just wake up! And they were just clapping for like half a minute or something. What was going on? I realised that it seemed like there was something … that they can find themselves in that music. This music explains things. Maybe I’m wrong but it’s what I felt. In Africa, when I started to play the first tune, second one, everyone started dancing because they can recognise themselves in what I am doing.”
Jah Baba features a staple collection of drums in his music, including a Gangan, also known as a “talking drum”, and bata, a “family” of three drums of decreasing size – the father, mother and little baby drums. The musician describes how the musical connection he is seeking, through combining traditional rhythms and jazz is really about sharing something universal, a love that is recognisable no matter where a person is or where they come from: “I’m focusing my mind, and my energies on how to share love, how to bring peace around myself, people around me and in Africa and maybe even all over the world. Because I think for me, the most important thing in this life is love. When you can share love with the person next to you or the person near to you, you do some very great thing. You do something that has no price. The main way I can share this thing is through music.”
Love is the foundation
For him music can bring peace and harmony as it spreads this love. He declares, “For me, if you are sharing love with your brother, you won’t allow yourself to hurt him, or to hit him, so everything will be cool.” He speaks of how festivals like the International Jazz Festival in Haiti can manifest that connection of people over the world:
The festival is giving me a chance to communicate with my brothers and sisters in Haiti and I have seen that we have the same people in Nigeria, Benin and in Haiti. So it’s a big chance for me to let them know we are the same.
This sense of sameness is reflected in Jah Baba’s personal feeling towards equality as a whole:
All I want is to make sure that inequality in this world must really go down. Because, you know there’s a lot of crazy stuff that is happening in this world. The rich men are keeping the poor ones in their position. The rich one don’t want the poor one to be like him. And it’s crazy. The rich one is using the poor one to get himself always rich. The rich one is not caring about the poor one’s life. He can die, that is not his problem.
The unequal state of the world and lack of empathy he sees seems to affect Jah Baba deeply, and represents an ongoing struggle which is on the musician’s mind every day:
I don’t really like to talk about this because it’s hard for me. To see people who are eating and the next one that cannot find anything to eat. For me, it’s not good. With that kind of stuff, there cannot be any peace in the world. There cannot be any, any good things in this world, for me, until I don’t have that!