New Album “Money” available september 2017> On Tour 2017-2018
Copyrights photos by Victor Delfim
“Afrobeat is a black beat…If you listen to some funk, or reggae beat, they’re all African beat I’m playing. All those is Afrobeat.”
Kiala should know. His sixty years on this earth – from Kinshasa, to Lagos with Fela, to Ghettoblaster, Japan and beyond – have been a odyssey of riffs and dreams, of opportunities and disappointments, of making it to the next gig on time whilst remaining true to your African heart. Now he’s off down another road with The Afroblaster and their brand new debut album Money. The trademark may be different but the beat is still a black beat, an African beat, an Afrobeat, blended, matured vintage and essential.
Kiala Nzavotunga grew up in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, listening to Miriam Makeba and the Portuguese fado beloved of his Angolan parents. His dad was an accordionist but he gravitated to the guitar and likembé and eventually started gigging with covers bands around Kinshasa before joining the backing band of the great Joseph Kabasele, aka ‘Le Grand Kalle’. But the police kept putting the pressure on musicians to sing the praises of Zaire’s dictator President Mobutu Sese Seko so, in the early 70s, Kiala decided to quit his homeland and roam round Africa for a while, soaking up more styles, more beats. He ended up penniless in Nigeria where he sold his shoes to buy the bus fare to Lagos. He was determined to try and meet Fela Kuti and ask for his help. Fela was the only Nigerian he’d ever heard of. In the end he made to the Shrine, where Fela gave him 50 Naira, a fortune in those days!
Kiala spent a few years playing with the cream of Nigeria’s Afro-rock bands – Eyes of Man, Aktion Funk Ensemble, Black Children and The Stormers – before joining Fela’s Egypt 80 in 1981. He played on Fela’s classic album Original Suffererhead and did countless gigs at the Shrine and elsewhere. Fela was a tough taskmaster who ran his band like a military unit, but Kiala retains a deep respect for the man: “He have humour, human feeling, he respect everybody. I think that’s my spiritual man!”
But even Fela couldn’t keep Kiala’s mind and feet from wandering. In Lagos, Kiala met Frenchmen Stéphane Blaes and Romain Puget and agreed to help them kick-start their band Ghettoblaster. He flew to Paris along with Egypt 80 drummer Ringo Avom and percussionist Udoh Essiet and they all moved into Puget’s barge on the Seine.
Ghettoblaster became Europe’s first Afrobeat band, revolutionary not only for their style, virtually unknown in Europe at that time, but also their mix of black and white musicians. They also honed themselves into a supremely hot live act and toured all over Europe and the US, supporting James Brown, Kassav, Albert King, Maceo Parker and Kool and The Gang, among many others along the way. But by the end of the 1980s, things had begun to fall apart, especially after bassist Willy N’for fell terminally ill, and singer Betty Ayaba died in tragic circumstances.
Kiala went off to live in Japan for a while with his Japanese wife. He discovered affinities between Japanese and African music and explored them in his collaborations with the legendary experimental Japanese bands Jagatara and Vibrastrone. He formed a new band called One Love Connection, branching out into other African rhythms, such as the zebola from Congo. Though it was a drifting time – back and forth between Tokyo and Paris – it was also productive.
At the request of a friend who programmed the African Music Festival in Holland, Kiala reformed Ghettoblaster in 1999 and released a comeback album called Niger River in 2003. But there wasn’t enough collective desire to fuel the project for long so Kiala went off to work with Paris-based producer Doctor L and his Psyco collective, contributing licks to ground-breaking albums such as Psyco on da Bus (with his old friend Tony Allen) and Electrobeat from Bamako (with Issa Bagayoko). In 2009 he recorded the solo album One Race featuring a line-up of leading Francophone musicians, including Rody Cereyon on bass, Cyril Atef on drums on the legendary chanson guitarist and producer Slim Pézin at the controls.
Hilaire Penda and Cyril Atef are also at the core of Kiala’s new venture, Afroblaster. “I have a big respect for Hilaire,” Kiala says, “he’s like my brother.” All those beats that Kiala has laid down, sediment on sediment, over the years are distilled into the songs on their debut album Money. All that wealth of experience has flowed deep and resurfaced, the Afrobeats fresh and enriched.
Kiala insists that songs should have something to say about the world we live in. And they should say it loud! “Being an African, like it or not, you have to have it politically, ideologically inside. That’s afrobeat. It’s like reggae: reggae is time to preach. Not in a bad way, but about the things you see.”
This is a shorter version of Andy Morgan’s full length biog ‘Kiala – Afrobeat is a Black Beat: A Biography’.
Last live in Paris – Zone Franche 25 anniversary
GHETTO BLASTER – The first Afro-beat band in Europe
KIALA – Sorrow, Tears and Blood – Tribute to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti featuring Cheikh Tidiane Seck (Guerrier !)…
KIALA LIVE FEATURING FRIENDS (TONY ALLEN, STEPHANE BELMONDO, HILAIRE PANDA…)
Kiala @ Montreux Jazz Festival featuring Omar Sosa, Stéphane Belmondo, Doctor L …