The writer, Ben Okri (my favourite living author), gave me some great advice. He said I should finish writing whatever it was I was writing. Whether it be music, a novel, a story, a play. Just finish whatever it was and don’t worry about what you do with it. So in the last few years I’ve worked towards finishing pieces and selecting some of the ones that feel most pertinent to my life experience. 22 years of writing as a musically illiterate synesthete has taught me a few things. Such as how life imitates or is foreshadowed by what is expressed creatively. Even years after the fact.
Whether my compositions are any good or not, is not for me to say, though I am pleased with some things. One can never be completely satisfied if they are as creatively ambitious as I am and have been. And failures are foundation stones for one’s character and growth. Its not fun to fail but its one of life’s greatest teachers. Vincent sold one out of the 900 paintings he poured his heart into. A failure in his own lifetime to some. To others he was beyond it. It doesn’t really matter. What counts isn’t the acclaim. If purpose finds you at work, doing what you are compelled to do and at a great risk of going over the edge of reason, who can say that it was not a victory that you even got the paint onto the canvas?
I have completed writing music that is inside me. Another deeply flawed human being has put some paint on the canvas to say something about life and love, pain and joy, fear and hope, death, desire, passion and things of the eternal. Whimsical and serious. Lofty and lo-fi. Between Heaven and the earth my feet lightly hovers above when I day dream. My music is some kind of dance for existence. A Tango Negro of the heart. A waltz of the soul. All my blood is in there. My laughter. My joy. My tears. A lot of tears are in there. I’ve cried a lot of nights into mornings. Quietly. But mostly my love.
“Some go hand in hand, and some go hand in love. Two by two they build their world of love. Lion with a Lamb. Falcon with a Dove. Step by step they build a world of love.”
– Terry Callier, Timepeace
Timepeace was birthed many years after Terry Callier, a Chicagoan singer-songwriter, had been established as a Folk Jazz maverick on the indie scene. The unanimously positive critical reaction it recieved in the UK led to a career resurgence and his concerts which I never attended, grew significantly in numbers. He played often at The Jazz Cafe. Regrettably, I always missed his shows.
I spent many nights playing Timepeace on repeat in my late teenage years. Sometimes I wouldn’t get past Lazarus Man. When I did, I might have gotten stuck in the mud of Keep Your Heart Right. And if I did get beyond that one I would be overwhelmed by Java Sparrow. Thats how it would be. Keep Your Heart Right played a role in informing some aspects of my being. I’d hear the song in my head in all kinds of situations, encouraging me to do as it said. I’m grateful for it. It nourished me.
There was a period in my life when I was comfortably numb. It lasted about 5 years. But I never willfully closed my heart. Its a strange and inhuman experience to feel nothing. I became aware of the condition of my numbness when my father died. It didn’t begin there. Something inside me died before he passed. I was just cold. I essentially lost 5 years of my life to a state of numbness. Its notable that I wasn’t playing this album during those years. When my heart opened up again and I found myself, these songs would pop back into my head. They were already in my heart.
Timepeace is a part of me. I return to it every now and then. The title track talks of the things that we may have to contend with if we don’t get it together but it resolves to an idea of possibility and hope, that maybe we can build a world of love. In the 90s many recording artists and songwriters put out songs that were hopeful about resolving the challenges of war, poverty, racial prejudice and other ills. Sometimes the tempo the messages were planted on would throw the rider off the proverbial Horse. The paitient tempo of ‘Timepeace’ with Pharoah Sander’s wailing tenor sax serenading the lilting guitar rhythm on a journey just short of 9 minutes is one of my most satisfying and cathartic I have been on. That world of love is a beautiful dream worth living and hoping for, even in the evergrowing darkness of what is yet to come.
When I met my father several years after he had left, he remembered that I once wrote him a letter and signed it “with love and honour”. He said it meant a lot to him. I used to write a lot of letters. I was a letter writer to the extreme. A bygone thing. I think I got that from him. He used to write letters with promises of trips around the world when we lived apart. He was in London with my sister and his other family and we were in Imo State, Nigeria. In his letters he often said that we would all go to Rome as a family. Together. I believed him. Rome was the dream. Everytime I watched Roman Holiday which starred Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, I thought about those letters. Rome was a figment of my developing imagination. I now wonder if he wrote similar letters to his other family. The divided sandcastle palace of the mind he built didn’t have room for all to board, but Barrister A.B.C had a way with words that drew people to him. My sister once likened him to the character of Arthur Daley in Minder, played by George Cole. I can kinda see that. A bit of Del Boy too. He was charismatic and believable. A charmer. Charmed my mother with enchanted promises. Till the spell wore off and the aftermath of the devestation of a life was visible.
They say romance is a thing of the past. I don’t believe that. As long as there are still romantics. The world today is not as kind a place for romantics, if it ever was. Letter writing was once the ultimate stage of romance. I carried on writing letters through my teenage years. To friends. To those who I hoped would look twice at me. Smitten hearted letters aplenty. Some got the measure of me, and some were wildly expressive. An outpouring. I wore my heart on my tear stained sleeve. I never signed off with love and honour to anyone else in the years since he reminded me of it. To love and honour, I understood what it meant, so I couldn’t cheapen it with nonchalance or play wreckless word games with hearts and minds on the line. I guess I have my father to thank for that in an ironic way. I found some other letters he wrote to people I know of. Elaborately worded. He was a letter writer to the extreme.
Creating the sound world for Smiles & Kisses was a thrilling experience. It goes all the way back to 2007. Playing around with ideas and just exploring colours in counterpoint rather than seeking out a progression or pattern. It began as layered piano and synth melody. Completely different in vibe, aesthetic and tempo to what it would become.
In 2018 I revisited the demo track I had recorded during a period of experimentation. I happened upon the sound very quickly. I don’t remember exactly how. There isn’t a formula. But when I found it, I knew immediately that I had something distinctive to build on. I took it to the studio and Tom and I added some more colours. I asked Tom to play what he felt on top of the soundscape I had painted at home. The tone and feel reference for the guitar part was Jeff Buckley, and is a homage to him. We completed the whole track in one session. There were no lyrics written in advance. What was captured is the first flight of thought and all the yearning that was waiting to be expressed. Longing and desire. Sometimes the heart knows before we do. About a thing called love. Its also about the sensuality and mystery of the familiar strangers we are and the distance between two people who might be right next to each other. I think of the passage in James Baldwin’s Another Country, which describes Vivaldo’s discovery of Ida and their mutual curiousity and suspicion about each other. So near and yet so far. A bridge to cross or a cross to carry.
The expression in Smiles & Kisses is intense and intentional. I only had one person in mind. If I was Dante, she was the Beatrice of this epic sonic poem. I thought I might be able to reach her in the ether of the song. A song is not only defined by what you hear. Its elevated by what you recognise. And what you remember. If it was ever true. I remember the first time I saw her and how I felt about that stranger who was so familiar to my soul. Like I had known her before I knew myself. A rediscovery. Or a reminder. The world abounds in mystery. Love might be the greatest mystery of all.
Elders count off years shaved by the blade. How quickly we forget the weight of days past tence. Mourn as you eat from the plate of good fortune.
I slept through more lifetimes than bodies, the nights wore me out. Single bedded mind on kingsize dreams, I was old before I was young. Too young to know I was rich in experience while I was earning my inches of growing pains. Lesson and class were taught in separate rooms, now life rents my living space.
This Roman city has been my stomping ground for all my life, and like a woman, it remains a mystery to me. A beautiful and sometimes infuriating mystery. And with all its challenges and failings, it has a beating heart that dares you to embrace it. Its old architecture and industry built from the profits of the slave trade, colonialism and the far reaches of the British Empire are part of London’s legacy. As a post colonial descendant, I am able to harness the history of London as both a symbol and witness of the city’s possibilities. The immigrant blood that upholds the NHS and that has permeated its way into the life and culture of Londoners is only one of many ways in which the history contends with the present. I try to see the beauty, resilience and hope that escapes into the polluted London air. I see the London of the Arts. I think of the fact that London can claim Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye as former residents. Its been the city of visionaries like William Blake. It gave the world the genius pathos of Charlie Chaplin. Its the city of Shakespeare and boasts the world’s greatest theatre scene and tradition. Charles Dickens did not hide the ugliness and brutality of London. Neither did Dizzee Rascal. As reflected in the Grime and Drill music, London has a screw face too. Knives and young lives have not been kind to eachother. But I’ll always be grateful to London because its where I found the great love of my life. She knows who she is. I hope that we will enjoy this city together again someday. A man can dream. I love London.
Compositionally, I was hoping that some of the flavour of Duke’s Money Jungle, Thelonious Monk and the 70s era of my favourite Jazz pianist, McCoy Tyner, pictured here, who passed in March this year might be found in one of my latest musical pieces, ‘Continents’. One of my greatest concert regrets is missing his last gig in London at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club. I had my ticket but as has happened on many occasions due to a deficient memory, I unremembered on the night it took place. It was only some days after that I realised it had past.
McCoy was the last man standing from what I believe to be the greatest Jazz quartet and one of the greatest groups of musicians in the long history of people banging, squeezing, and plucking on things to make music. Alongside John Coltrane, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, Tyner made music that lifted the level of consciousness and seemingly held down the foundations of something ancient and future, just beyond the grasp of comprehension. The abstract and formal, the beauty of McCoy’s comping and soloing on ‘My Favorite Things’ is a love letter to the questing nature and curiousity of what it is to be human. The technique and the soul was never in doubt, when McCoy played his instrument.
Once upon a time I presented this painting, ‘The Deep Thinker’, as a gift. It was turned down because the person who it was gifted to, said the face had no eyes. And that it was tantamount to bad luck. I’ve never dealt in charms but I graciously took back my painting. It seems the only eyes we recognise more often than not are the peep holes for our iris to take a snap shot of what we percieve in surreality. In real life as we term it, we are blinded by sight or rather blunted. The optical illusion of the vision is only equaled by the delusion of what we choose not to see in plain sight. We are all complicit in the great deception and visionaries will burn at the high stakes of our unseeing eyes.
Six thirty. You were on time. This time. You were here. I was on my way. Missed the train. Missed the boat too. Burnt the bridge behind the rush hour. Always Knew I could fly. Just needed you to believe. I could fly across the world between your heart and I. On my bicycle. Travelling you has been my greatest journey. So far. So far away. Too high to climb your thoughts. I tried you like you were written by Hemmingway. You were sentences that served me time in the cave of loneliness. I fell down in battle. We grow up in love and loss. Played the hand too hard. Not soon enough. Only time wins it all. Its seven.
80s was Mr T and Murdoch, Wimpy for the toys that went with the grub, scuffling at the laundrette, Cheetara, He-Man and She-Ra, Ghostbusters and Thriller, Christopher Reeves was Superman, comics were Marvel, Peter Parker made sense to this kid back then, had a Mary Jane of my own wired imagination that bought me a Batman action figure in 89, best friends were Irish, Egyptian, and Indian, literature was Roald Dahl and Hardy Boys, arcades were where we hung out, if I wasn’t at the library (Damilola Taylor and I would have been buddies if our years crossed paths), Street Fighter, Pizza Tropicana was the spot where Minesh and his brother got shook, gangs snatched watches and pocket money, I got lucky one time, more than once, BMX bikes were the wheels of dreams, indoors we drove Scalextric cars, soundtrack was pop, trust was Prince, Vicki Vale was the Kim that rocked our world, View to a kill, old Roger was my Bond, caught the whiff of adventure and grabbed the hat I wear in the present, Indiana Jones, red was my colour, had to be a Jedi thing, Murphy was Robocop and Eddie, the golden child, the leader of a primary school country dance, class of 89, Mary Anne, French as my name, teacher was Polish, she remembered me too, spitting image, Nintendo, a falling wall, kinda spooky channel 4 girl at the end of transmission, never thought much about the doll…..