King Nommo – Interview – 2016

Local afrobeaters King Nommo haven’t been around for very long, but they certainly know how to get peoples’ attention: they’ve already played a support slot at Concorde 2 and have some big dates booked. With the recent addition of their singer, they are now complete and ready to get out there. They have an irresistibly big sound, with a horns section that guarantees a good gig. Their music is a great blend of revivalism and experimentation – we expect to see a lot more of them in future, so we got together with one of their members and asked some questions.

How was King Nommo formed?
King Nommo was formed originally as an instrumental band by a group of friends who share a love of Afro-flavoured, groove based music. We’re all working musicians in Brighton, who play with bands such as Resonators, Lakuta, Gentle Mystics, Voodoo Love Orchestra .

You recently added a singer to your lineup. Where did you find him and what does he bring to the band?
Khadim Sarr’s a talented Senegalese vocalist who has been resident here in Brighton for a few years, playing with Backlampfall and the duo Mike and Khadim. He’s now joined forces with King Nommo and brings a whole new dynamic to the band. He has great power and range, reminiscent of great west African voices like Salif Kieta and Yussou N’dor, but he also brings in a modern edge with elements of rap and ragga.

How far do you stick to traditional afrobeat, and in what ways does your music depart from it into new territory?
We like to keep some of the more traditional or typical afrobeat characteristics, like the busy, heavy-feeling rhythm section you would expect from recording artists such as Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astetque or Ibo Taylor. Strong and prominent bass lines, poly-rhythms between kit and percussion with two intertwining guitar parts really gives the recognisable “afrobeat” groove and of course there is a four-piece thumping horn section riding and lifting the music.

Khadim really brings an original element to the sound, singing in wolof and bringing rap and ragga vocal styles in to the mix. A hybrid of modernised Traditional rhythms from Senegal and Guinee, and rhythms from the realms of hip hop, jazz and funk are also incorporated alongside the more typical Nigerian and Ghanaian afrobeat drumming styles. There are also a fair few modern day influences such as Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Daptones, Sean kuti and Heliocentrics, to name a few.

All of your songs are very long. Why is this?
We like playing music and providing space to explore! Plus, afrobeat is music for inducing a trance like state for dancing. It's groove music, where traditionally the forms of songs are quite free in terms of the length of solos and vocal sections. The structure and length of verses and choruses aren’t a set number of bars. Fela Kuti, the legendary founder of afrobeat, was notorious for playing tunes that lasted up to 30 minutes long! It's just another way in which we’re influenced by traditional afrobeat.

Aside from the length, how else do your songs differ in structure from the mainstream template? Is this a conscious decision or did it just happen?
Yes it's a conscious decision! Our tunes are not pop tunes, so we don't use standard chord progressions. In fact most of our tunes (like afrobeat in general) is based on a one chord groove! Most of our most straight-up afrobeat tunes have a Dorian flavour (the second mode of the major scale).

What do your songs tend to be about? Or, in a band with such a focus on instrumentation, is this a misleading question? Is it about the meaning of the words for you, or the sound of the music?
Its about both, the sound of the band and the voice also as an instrument is important . I think you can enjoy the music and vocals even if you don’t understand them immediately. Sometimes I think its interesting to get an emotional message or feeling from a singer without understanding the language, it can kind of bypass your thinking brain so you don’t try to analyse and relate to the story or images lyrics might create – it becomes a different experience. The words do have meaning though, of course, although the songs don’t tend to have a common theme. One is about Independence, to be conscious of your responsibility, one is a tribute to the life of Khadim’s son, one is about Karma – quite a mixed bag really.

Does the band prefer songwriting or live performance?
I think everyone enjoys performing. Some of us seem more in to song writing at the moment, but that depends on how much time each of us has to commit to practice, too.

Describe your songwriting dynamic. Is there a core writing group within the band or does everyone jump in?
There’s always been a kind of core that write in the band, but everyone is welcome to chip in and in the end I would say most of us give some input before a song is “finished”.

You seem like a band well-suited to festivals. Where will you be playing this summer?
We are currently booked to play at Tropical Pressure festival in Cornwall and we are talking too reps from Wilderness Festival and Womad, hoping to get some more booked in soon

Tell us about your upcoming gigs in Brighton.
We have a late night gig on 29th January at the Rialto, we’ll soon be playing at the Dome at the brilliant Spectrum night on March 17th, The Concorde 2 on 2nd April and the Kemp Town Carnival on 4th of June.

What is your favourite Brighton venue?
We like the Concorde. It’s a good size and it feels great to be on that stage.

Do any past gigs stand out?
Supporting Gladiators at the Concorde recently was fun

Is there anyone you would particularly like to support live, and is there anyone you would particularly like to support you?
So many! We’d love to support Sean Kuti, United Vibrations – too many to list.

Not sure who we’d like to be supported by, we’d love to put on gigs with local bands. We can all support each other, awwww!

What other Brighton bands would you tip as destined for big things? Are there any new bands we should be aware of?
Barnacles, King Lagoon’s Flying Swordfish Dance Band are definitely two to watch.

If you could collaborate with any artist of any kind, who would it be?
I can only speak for myself, but personally I would love to collaborate with David Attenborough. He has nothing to do with the music of afrobeat! But he is my hero! He could present our story!

Or David Bowie! But so sadly he's gone! RIP BOWIE!!!

Are you looking to sign to a label, and if so which would you choose?
Not right now, we’ve gotta do some recording first.

Do we have any King Nommo releases to look forward to in the near future?
Yes, we should be recording an EP soon, around the end of march hopefully – release date tbc!