VILLY & The Xtreme Volumes brings sound for the mental revolution in Africa
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Accra-based Nigerian musicians VILLY & The Xtreme Volumes have released HUMANIMALS, their boldest work on politics and corruption to date, bringing the sound for mental revolution in Africa back again. RFI sat down with Villy the lead singer to find out what makes this unique band tick.
You call your music Afrofusion can you define it for us?
Afrofusion is an experimental sound. African rhythms, African percussions, African sounds mixed with other foreign sounds. It’s a combination of sound, just like cooking soup. It’s a combination of leaves, vegetables, spices, and whatnot, all mixed in one pot and delivered as a final product. So Afrofusion is bigger than what people think. It is out of Africa. Because when people say ‘I’m an Afrofusionist’ they think you have to be African to be, it’s an experimental music and anyone can experiment from any part of the world, so it is a huge part of music and shouldn’t be seen as just Afrofusion, Afrobeat. People mistake Afrofusion for Afrobeat a lot.
What are your influences?
Just because it’s not a packaged music, just because it’s not entertainment music, I can’t really say that there’s someone we’re looking up to see the kind of lyrics they use, see the kind of music they use and try to follow into their step. But I think we try to do this… I think there are great people, like the great Fela [Kuti], Ebenezer Obey, Majek Fashek… so many musicians across Africa, even outside of Africa, like Michael Jackson. There are songs inspired by Michael Jackson, like Lionel Ritchie, and so on, Erika Badu, the lifestyle… we all tap into all this. Then, relate it to our current lives, our struggle, our day-to-day life in Africa. I always tell people this. First, we’re humans. Then other things come after. I’m human, then I’m a musician. I see everything as a human. I feel everything as a human. And I act as a human first, through music.
You mentioned the mighty Fela Kuti. He was quite political when he was alive. Does that factor into your music?
Yes, if not for Fela and the bold step he took I mean, Fela was in and out of prison all his life, because he was standing for something, he was standing for the basic human rights. For the right of the people to ask questions, ask their government questions because it was as if the people were under a label, like, ‘You are the people. We are the leaders. You serve us.’ It’s not the other way around. So Fela fought for that, Fela stood for that, Fela fought for revolution, and I think I am the result of Fela’s revolution, we are the result of Fela’s revolution. Because of what he did. We can sing and not get arrested immediately. I know that might happen in the future, but right now, people can sing and call names. People will think they can squander the people’s money, they are fraudulent, they are bad examples to the continent. We can name these names and draw attention to them without being arrested, thanks to Fela.
You write all the songs. You have a song called Why. Why?
Why is a direct question to my people in Nigeria. The lyrics of that song started with “I’m a Nigerian/I AM Nigerian, but I’m used to suffering and smiling”. Again, Fela. You see? Suffering and smiling. “Why is that so/why is it still so.” I’ve been used to suffering and smiling for a very long time, and the way it’s going, my children are going to get used to it too. Because everybody around me is used to it, we suffer, we smile, and we continue our lives, because the average African man, I don’t know what they’re thinking about, but from where I stand, from where I see, the average African man thinks that once you can pay your bills, you can buy a car. You can pay the house rent, you can pay the school fees. You can take care of your basic needs. You are OK. That’s how they say, ‘you are living the life you are supposed to live.’ You know, people don’t challenge themselves, people don’t ask questions. The average African man does not come out to see why is it like this. And see that that question is asking gets an answer.
What is behind the song, ‘Chale wia my money eh’?
It’s actually bigger than that, it’s not based on the leaders. It’s African mentality. Because, like I said, at first, I’m expressing myself as a human, first. So, most of the things I sing about or write about is from the point of view of a human being, living on planet earth. ‘Charlie where my money’ the African man is known to us, the African man is known to borrow money from you, or ask for a favour, to return the favour and never wants to return it. Or never wants to pay you back your money. That is quite common among the African community come out from. So, you always have to go fight for your money. For example, a landlord. You always have to go fight for your rent. I know in developed countries, even before the end of the month, the rent has been paid, in most cases. But here, if you meet a landlord or if you interview another landlord or landlady here in Africa, they will tell you (laughs) that they have to go every month, every year to fight for their money. Like, ‘where is my money?’ It has to be a hustle before people pay up. So, that song is just a reminder to tell us that we know who we are, you understand. So that you know when you listen to that song, you know in your lifetime you’ve owed some people money and you’re dodging them. It’s a song that’s talking to you, and it’s a song that talks to everybody. Even me singing the song, I’ve been a debtor once, if I’m not still a debtor. I’ve been a debtor once and I’ve had to hide form people coming to collect their money, or dodge-- it’s a common thing in Africa, and I just needed to express it in a song, and pass the message across that. We know, so you, you should know yourself, ‘cause I know myself.
We were talking about the message of your music.
It is from the grassroots. It is common sense. We have this hashtag: #uncolonized, because we’re also singing about colonization, and what colonization did to the continent, but we’re on the positive side, saying, ‘Ooooh, we were colonized! You see, that’s our problem! We were colonized! We can’t say that forever. Yes, we know we were colonized. Let’s move on. So uncolonize yourself. How do uncolonize yourself? Strip everything away from you: religion, even education, strip it away from you and think as a common man, with your common sense. The music is based on common sense, you know? 1+ 1, A,B,C, back to the drawing board. I’m not coming here to say, when I sing my song, people get inspiiired! Or people fall under the anointing. I’m saying, this music stands for change and this change is common sense. This music pushes you. If I’m singing about your current situation because I’m in the same situation, if I sing about my situation, it is also your current situation, because I go through what you go through. So if I sing about that, you have to go home you have to think about it. You have to pick your own favourite line… I walk down the street and I hear people call me. They call lines of my music they call, ‘Make Me Mad’, they call different names, and I know, yes, I have passed that message across. As long as you’ve passed that message across you’ve done your job.
Your hashtag #uncolonized is pretty blunt. Have you had any backlash from this?
Yeah, but funny enough, not from the westerners, not from the Europeans, not from my American friends, not from my Asian friends. From (laughs) the African people I’m trying to tell this. The people who should get a bit offended or we don’t like that … are the Europeans. The people that did this, the people that their ancestors did this to us, they should be the ones not comfortable with it. But my people are not comfortable with it. My people are saying, “What do you mean?”
Would you like to add anything?
How can Nigeria be suffering oil scarcity? In this age, the 21st century, we are suffering oil scarcity. The sixth largest country that produces oil in the world, and we don’t have oil. We don’t have refineries. They’ve been telling us for over 20 years that our refineries are bad. We will fix it. We will fix it. We shall fix it. It’s part of the promise. ‘When I come into power, you will have basic amenities. Good roads, hospital, railway, easy transportation, all form of transportation, we’ll repair the refinery, we’ll put all the refineries in order. How many presidents have come and gone? The refineries are still not in order. We export crude oil to refine and bring back. You now have governors and ex-governors who have refineries outside the country while they were in power. They stole money and built refineries. That’s their retirement plan. So they take our oil and refine it, because when it’s coming back, it’s not the same price. (laughs) So you see? When my governor does that, and me, the colonised man, that can’t think straight, all I’m thinking is how to be like my governor. How to be as rich as him. How to run around the entire city with sirens. How to get the respect he gets. That’s all I want to do. So these people are not just stealing, they’re damaging the roots. They are damaging the next generation. They are poisoning the people with their corruption.
VILLY & The Xtreme Volumes' latest project, the LIVE "Humanimals" EP filled with protest music is out on 15 June, 2016.
VILLY & The Xtreme Volumes' latest project, the "Humanimals" EP - live!
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