News, reviews and commentary on afrobeat and related music from Africa, The Caribbean and The Americas

Friday, July 25, 2008

Afrofunk Forum Interview with Justin Adams!

This installment of the Afrofunk Forum holds a special treat. I got the chance to conduct an interview with Justin Adams and discuss his new album, the state of world music and what it means to be a culturally eclectic musician. Justin Adams’ career has been extremely successful- playing alongside former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and many of the finest musicians in Africa and Europe for decades.

Justin Adams’ latest release, Soul Science, is an exhilarating look at this intrepid artist. Working alongside Juldeh Camara and Salah Dawson Miller, the group creates a sound blending Europe, Africa, and America into a provocative, wholly unique style.

KE: Where would you place Soul Science in the scope of your personal career and development as a musician?

JA: The past five or six years I 've been working with Robert Plant, studying Delta blues and developing strength and a Rock and Roll edge in my playing, and also with Tinariwen, really getting deep into that Sahara groove- so this was a perfect project to go further in those directions.

KE: What was it like working with Juldeh Camara and Salah Dawson Miller? How did the three of you end up collaborating on this album?

JA: To work with a West African Griot and Master Musician with deep roots and effortless creativity like Juldeh is to play with a force of Nature. Salah is like a brother, we have been playing together on and off for 20 years he has taught me a lot.

KE: Soul Science sounds like it was the product of a more raw, roots-oriented approach to the recording process. Was this a conscious decision to achieve a certain sound, and if so, why? Did this factor into the title of the album?

JA: I get really bored with pristine, clean recordings. I'm a big fan of raw African cassettes, of distorted Sun Blues, Studio One Dub, the Clash, and of the sound when you hear African musicians playing in the street or in nightclubs with PA systems under stress. I find it more exciting . The title of the album refers to the ancient Science of rhythm and melody that we dip into- only the outward forms of our music are new, the architecture was figured out thousand years ago by unnamed minstrels , who knew how to get under your skin.

KE: What sort of audience do you envision for this sort of music collaboration? European? African? Both? How do you see “world music” evolving in this regard?

JA: I'm ridiculously optimistic each time I start a project- I imagine everyone likes what I like. People with similar backgrounds will understand my reference points, but hopefully the music stands on its own,and I know a lot of Africans who are into it. As far as lyrics are concerned, only Fulani speakers are getting the full picture, and I know Juldeh takes that communication very seriously.

KE: The Internet and the proliferation of digital information allow people to gain unprecedented access to new music. Consequently, musicians are blending genres and infusing styles at an ever-expanding rate. As a European musician that incorporates such a diverse range of influences (many of which are non-European), have you run into any particular challenges or obstacles along the way to developing Soul Science?

JA: I've been blending things for such a long time that it would be much harder to try to play anything, including "rock", in a "pure " way. As I play , I play what sounds good to my ears, rather than analysing where each stylistic influence comes from first. It wouldn't work to try to fit Juldeh's music to Western structures or rhythms, although what I play might sometimes sound Western, it fits the African building blocks of the music.

KE: As previously mentioned, the world music market is changing rapidly. With this ever-expanding access to new music, how do you see “world music” evolving in terms of production and performance? Have world music audiences changed in the last decade? Has your musical approach changed as a result?

JA: I think access to really wide forms of music is fantastic, when I was first searching out African and Arabic music in London it was quite hard to find things out, now it's easy and audiences are more informed, which maybe means there is less need to "sugar the pill" for western audiences, not that has ever really been my concern. If I was to campaign for anything in world music production, it would be to keep things raw and untamed, it's so easy to tidy music up with computers and kill it's spirit. And I'm for ultra-traditionalism to survive alongside far out innovation, not interested in the middle of the road much.

KE: You have written and performed your music in both Africa and Europe. Do you approach these audiences differently? How do these listeners affect you as a musician? Do you see global differences in music tastes?

JA: I pretty much just do my thing. When I first played in Africa I was a bit shy, thinking, who am I , a white boy who knows nothing, to play my crude music in front of these people who really know their tradition. But I've found that people all over the world are touched by the spirit of music first and foremost, and really respond to things that touch on their own culture , even if they are a bit different. I've had some beautiful affirmations from African
musicians that I respect so much. Of course there are differences in taste everywhere, sometimes I find raw street music despised in its country of origin, and I am sometimes surprised at peoples tolerance for prog/jazz/metal/jazz guitar solos and cheesy keyboards.

KE: What comes next in the journey of Justin Adams and Soul Science? Can we expect more recordings from this lineup of musicians?

JA:We are currently playing lots of festivals around the UK, Mexico City, Morocco and Siberia, and we may get to another record in the Autumn, and try to take the whole thing to another level- wilder!


  1. Very interesting article, thanks for the information

  2. Justin and Juldeh are guesting on this ethiopian fusion album new release:

    I am Dan Harper, the man behind Dub Colossus (I recorded it in my studio
    in Addis,
    put all the
    musicians together, co-wrote/played on etc).

    I thought given my other
    Ethiopian release
    (to great press/reviews to date) this should be sent your way.

    I was recording this album (Invisible System, Punt (Made in Ethiopia)
    before Dub
    Colossus was
    born, all of DC are on it plus e.g. Mahmoud Ahmed (Ethiopques and
    Ethiopia's main
    man), many other
    Ethiopians + guests from the UK upon my return include Justin Adams
    (Robert Plant)
    and Juldeh,
    Hilaire Chabby (Baba Maal), Captain Sensible, Simon Hinkler (The Mission),
    Train, Baka
    Beyond, Ozric Tentacles etc etc. It is released after due to my heavy
    workload and
    as I set up my
    own record label to do this. I returned to the UK post 8 years aid work
    in Mali and
    Ethiopia with
    my Malian wife and daughter (Frome in Somerset).

    Some reviews are pasted below for you. If you receive this let me know
    and I can
    mail you a CD
    for review or some mp3s and jpegs. Although the press so far has been
    great, and
    the next FRoots
    has a full article on the album plus a free track on the cover CD, I need
    now to get
    it into some
    newspapers and non-world music mags. Mojo are currently looking at it I
    think. The
    reason being
    it crosses so many genres as you will see from below and thus will appeal
    to world,
    reggae, dub,
    dance, club, psy, rock etc fans as well.

    It has been played on e.g. BBC World Service, Late Junction, Asian net etc
    as well
    as in the USA,
    New Zealand Radio (with interview), etc etc.

    Ok, some reviews now.

    Dan - 07515 400362

    INVISIBLE SYSTEM Rock N Reel Review (just came through, not yet published)
    Punt ? Made In Ethiopia

    Having spent several years in Africa as an aid worker, musician and
    producer Dan
    Harper (aka
    Invisible System), was uniquely qualified when it came to the creation of
    wonderfully strange
    and slightly otherworldly album. Punt is a remarkable musical melting pot
    crosses continents,
    cultures and musical genres and in doing so gives birth to something that,
    with its
    blend of
    Ethiopian music, dub, trance, pop, electronica, rock and psychedelia
    resolutely to be
    pigeon holed. Created with the assistance of an eclectic collection of
    from bands as
    diverse as Ozric Tentacles, Robert Plant, Zion Train, Loop Guru, Baka
    Beyond, The
    Transglobal Underground and Baaba Maal, Punt is truly innovative. Recorded
    Harper?s mobile Worm
    Hole Studio in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia it features some of that country?s
    including legendary
    singer Mahmoud Ahmed together with pianist Samuel Yirga Miyiku,
    saxophonist Feleke
    Woldemariam and singers Tsedenia Gebremarkos Woldesilassie and Sintayehu
    Zenebe who
    last year
    collaborated with Harper on Count Dubullah?s Dub Colossus project, A Town
    Addis. One of the
    most startlingly original musical adventures of the year Punt seamlessly
    together these
    diverse threads and in doing so gives a whole new meaning to the term
    ?fusion music?.
    Dave Haslam

    World Music Network
    How an aid worker, who spent eight years in Mali and Ethiopia, became the
    nomadic record producer, composer, musician, sound engineer and all around
    champion for equality and democracy in the underbelly of the fat,