MUSIC IN HIS VEINS: Femi Koya was inspired by Fela Kuti.
Dancing around the drummers in his father’s home village in Ikorodu, Nigeria, is a vivid memory for Femi Koya.

He would watch them as they performed throughout the village, taking in what they were doing and how they were playing the beats. Although he started his own music career in the church, he never thought he would end up in music.

“I’m not sure if I decided that music would be my calling. I thought I was going to be a soccer player, until music came with full force and arrested me. Ever since then, I have been in love with music and we are happily married.”

He grew up in a family that listened to Fela Kuti religiously; his songs were always playing in the background.

When Koya looks back, he realises that music and art were always a part of his life.

“I didn’t take it seriously until around 2003 and only then did it become something I couldn’t live without. I eat music, breathe music, I sleep everything African music.”

Described as the face of the African Renaissance, the saxophonist has added his genius to the world of Afrobeat.

Not to confuse it with Afrobeats, Afrobeat is the original sound that developed in Nigeria in the 1970s. Afrobeats is the Nigerian hip-hop that has been popularised by the likes of Wizkid and D’banj.

“The Afrobeat that I play is music that originated from the late Fela Kuti, a purely Nigerian vibe with a lot of horns arrangement and heavy percussion, and is also very political.”

Koya said he was taken by the way Afrobeat spoke to him.

MUSIC IN HIS VEINS: Femi Koya is the prince of Afrobeat.


“It’s a genre that allows me to free myself. I can speak about anything and say anything I want. You can literally speak on an Afrobeat groove.”

All the Fela Kuti music that played in the background at home followed Koya. “I would listen and hear him speak about things happening in the world, in Africa. He was a force to be reckoned with.”

When Koya came to South Africa in 2005, he tried various music genres, such as maskandi, mbaqanga and jazz. He played everything but Afrobeat, until the late Hugh Masekela and several other musicians told him to return to his calling.

“He told me he heard me playing Afrobeat and said I needed to do it. I’ve been happy ever since.”

The versatile composer and vocalist said the only way to deal with African issues was to be on African soil.

“There’s so much you gain from being on African soil.

“Living in South Africa, there are a lot of culture elements that have changed my mindset.

“It has shifted how I feel about Africa and its people. South Africa is closer to the world than any other African country. Everyone is here, it’s the united states of Africa.”

Koya’s music is a rich blend of deep, sultry Afrobeat and contemporary groove, combining West African high-life and South African Sophiatown jazz with nostalgic Afrobeat roots.

Koya’s life journey - a story of migration from west to south - resonates in his music, which creates a conscious dialogue between West African and South African sounds.

He differentiates his sound from Kuti’s through the messages he wants to get across.

“I deal less with the governments and African leaders because it’s like speaking to deaf ears. They will never hear until we Africans decide to forget about the government, and as people work together to save Africa ourselves.”

His third album, Village Afrobeat, is about taking Africans back to their upbringing.

“I had thought about Nigerian music. People are so locked in in Nigeria that they are not thinking about their culture anymore.

“They want to be American, and Americans want to be Africans. Let me take them back to the village where they began.”

For his Standard Bank Jazz Festival show, that takes place during the National Arts Festival from June 28 to July 7, you can expect a true African village party where everyone is free.

“I think I am more excited to be bringing this I have been looking forward to this festival since the beginning of the year.”