Sunday 18 November 2012

Saxophonist Shola Emmanuel

In the shed with Shola Emmanuel
Nigerian saxophonist, composer, and arranger Shola Emmanuel visited me in Lagos recently. He was introduced four and a half years ago as the best saxophonist in Abuja and his skills have only improved since then. He is playing music nobody else in Nigeria is doing today. Hip hop and so-called contemporary R&B have eradicated local music like afrobeat and juju from the West African airwaves, and jazz, which never had that strong of a local scene, is low-profile. Shola is one of the foremost musicans keeping jazz alive and vibrant in Nigeria today, blending a strong grounding in African rhythms with fluid and creative improvisation.

Shola just self-produced his first CD, Nine Lessons by the Rhythm & Sax Orchestra, nine original compositions and arrangements with Shola up front on alto and tenor saxes (and trumpet on one track) over large group backings. The CD was launched at a concert in Abuja on October 21 which, by all accounts, was a sellout. Shola primarily plays alto although he pointed out to me that he, like many hornmen in Nigeria, started out on trumpet. Here is a Youtube video of Shola playing one of his originals, Into D Woods

We jammed for six or seven hours, part of the time joined by friend Tunde who plays alto. I played tenor and Shola split his time between his alto and borrowing my second tenor. He got a powerful sound out of the Kohlert. We mostly played out of my book which meant a heavy dose of Gene Ammons tunes, Jammin' with Gene, Treux Blue, and Happy Blues. Showboy dropped by and gave us all a workout in afrobeat; we played the horn sections of several Fela tunes and jammed through Night In Tunisia. I caught the proceedings on my Zoom recorder and have sampled two tracks for download, duets with Shola on alto and me on tenor: Caravan and Doxy, which we played in tribute to our mutual colleague, the late Dare Peter; click to listen. It is easy to identify each of us and Shola's fluent sound is apparent. 

Shola is a musician who has advanced significantly since I met him and will definitely be going places. His web site is currently under construction as of this writing, but check back soon for downloads and gig notices. 

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