Laolu Akintobi was born in 1946 in Abeokuta in the Western part of Nigeria. He spent his childhood in a village close to the city where his father was a farmer and a hunter and also had been a soldier in a colonial army. His mother was a produce dealer, she sold palm nuts and cocoa. He grew up surrounded by traditional music such as Juju, High life, Apala, or Sakara music, as played by Yusef Olatunji and mostly sung in Yoruba language but he was also Influenced by the western music like jazz played on the radio .
The first drums he played were traditional nigerian Acubah and also Agidigo, a thumb piano.
He joined his uncle in Lagos and started to study in his local youth school and played mostly Hi life and popular nigerian band like ET Mensah , Victor Olaya , Billy friday but also soul from the USA and especially the king James Brown .
After a lifetime of music, Mr Laolu Akins is looking the span of his career: from school gigs with The Clusters band, to Lagos clubs where Fela and Tony Allen heard them (and that he will replace a week when he was ill ), worldwide tour with Salt, his 10 years “Collective Blo experience” settled by more than 6th album , (the last one Back in time was released in 1982), to his experience as music producer today.
Interview done in February 2012 between LAOLU AKINS in Lagos and Julien Lebrun in Paris.
Julien Lebrun : When did you start music ?
LAOLU AKINS : For members of the group, we started music at different times and places, but our real get together as a group happened at the end of Nigeria’s civil war in 1968-69 when an earlier music group named ‘’The Clusters’’ was touring the Eastern part of the country (Nigeria) and met with several other musicians who had left Lagos just before the war, and gotten trapped in the war zones. This was how we began to team up again first to expand the Clusters and thereafter
You played with “the Clusters “, how can you describe this experience?
The Clusters started out as a college group with most of the early members going through college at the time, and practicing and playing music after school. It wasn’t a professional group just a few youths getting together and living out their dreams of wanting to be pop stars. At the time we had fairly elderly though young themselves supporting and financing us with costumes, money, instruments and publicity. We had many music competitions at the time because there were many such groups from different colleges.
During the civil war between 1967 and 1969, Mike Odumosu was the bass player of the ” Vampires” band and Berkely , an Ibo , who lived in the east part of the country called Biafra at this time was playing in a band called “The Figures”.
Mike Joined the Clusters after the war along with Joni Haastrup .
In 66 / 67 , Clusters became the most popular band in Nigeria , When the Sierra Leonean Pino came it was a great thing , a huge turnaround for nigerian music . He brought massive equipment from Sierra Leone via Ghana. And fortunately for us , the band was big enough to support Geraldo Pino.He really brought kind of magic to Nigeria .
By 1970 ,Mike, Berkely and i left The Clusters and joined Afrocollection along with the Lijadus sisters . Tee Mac a swiss musician who worked also with Silver Convention put that band together.
Can you tell us about your meeting with Ginger Baker?
Meeting and working with Ginger Baker was definitely one which seemed destined to happen. Ginger had visited Nigeria in 1970-71 driving a Range Rover Jeep across the desert and ended up in Lagos – Nigeria. During that visit, he met and had jam sessions with us in a group then known as Afro Collection, ( An offshoot of ‘’The Clusters’’) which at the time had Sunday Matinee gigs at a cub known as ‘’Batakoto’’ in the heart of Lagos Island. It is now known that he enjoyed the sessions so much that he decided on his second visit to Nigeria to form an All-African group though eventually mixed with two British horn players. The group ‘’GINGER BAKER & SALT’’ was formed around the first quarter of 1972 and rehearsed through the months towards a world tour which started at Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s Afro Spot in Yaba, Lagos. We then continued in Frankfurt, Germany with the Olympic Jazz Festival in Summer of 1972 followed with a number of gigs around many cities in Germany, on to USA, British Columbia, Canada, through USA and back to UK then finally arriving in Nigeria in October of 1972 at the point when BLO was formed after SALT was disbanded.
What was your influence ?
We had mixed influences starting out in the college days. These were the years of popular Nigerian –West African music called hilife, but soon afterwards, the strong rock and rockin’roll was becoming strong through the popularity of music by popular caypso by Harry Belafonte, Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener etc. No long after the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Rolling Stones Cliff Richard and many others began to rule the airwaves and all the young groups including our group took from all these to build the foundation which eventually launched us into our own styles much later.
Blo was formed in 1972 , can you explain your meeting , the concept you wanted to promote ?
Yes, Blo was formed after Ginger Baker & Salt was disbanded in October of 1972 on arrival from the tour with group. But the 3 members that got together to form Blo had all played together at various times in The Clusters and Afro Collection, so we had been friends. Mike Odumosu ‘’O’’ in BLO, (Bass Guitar) who teamed up with myself ( Laolu Akins) ‘’L’’ in BLO ( Drums) and (Berkely Jones) ‘’B’’ in BLO (Guitar) prior to that time and while we were on the Salt tour had just returned from a UK tour with another Nigeria Choral group, The Steve Rhodes Voices. The three of us met and discussed the need to to have a totally new concept on a new formation and a fairly radical approach to the way groups had been formed and also but more importantly, the need to be original and different in the way we would sound musically, and the kind of image we should have. So, we agreed we would form a trio, and our music must be all original (no copying) and different; however insisting it must be rock with deep African influences in our rhythm, songs and beat hence the media tagged it afro rock.
On Step 3 ,You were 3 , but on the recording studio how many musicians were involved into the project , like horns?
In the group we were 3, and in our first album ( Blo Chapter One) we were still 3 and we recorded as a trio. But from the point when we recorded our second album ( Blo Phase II) we brought in a number of other instruments like Keyboards and Congas and got session musicians to play them as we had decided then to further enrich our music with additional instruments but not necessarily increasing our personnel line-up. On Blo Phase 2 , it was recorded in 9 sessions of 12 hours each from 6 PM to 6 AM .We still remained 3 and toured as such until the recording of Blo Step 3 .
Biddy ”Oladele” Wright replaced Mike as the ‘O’ of BLO. Mike Odumosu had joined Osibisa at the time this album was recorded.
Tunde Williams from the Fela 70′s band was playing trumpet on this session .
Did you have a political intention at this time ?
Not at all, our music was non-political in any way but sometimes a few songs touched on or addressed issues of the time. Radical in some ways but not directly political.
Who wrote the songs and what was your favorite theme ?
In the beginning, BJ ( guitars) wrote many of the early songs, though with help from L and O. But afterwards, we all contributed songs individually and jointly. Favourite theme is ‘’Togetherness’’
What is the particularity between Blo part 1 , 2 and this Step 3 ?
Blo Chapter One, was the real unadulterated music concept which we set out to do in the first place. In Blo Phase II, the commercial influences had began to creep into our concept though only musically. Blo Step was the beginning of our attempts to widen the group’s horizon and reach beyond the earlier boundaries, a big gamble, and it was the first time we had an external producer ( Keith Whitting) assigned from Decca London to work with the group. On this album, we had more session musicians on the set, Tunde Willams from Fela Anikulapo’s band on trumpet, and others.
What is your vision about the music of Fela ?
I see Fela as a phenomenon, a master of his art, one of the greatest musicians and social crusader that Africa has ever produced.(they are not many) He was way ahead of many musically, never afraid, he spoke about the rot and injustices that pervaded Africa and specifically his country Nigeria, and used his music to bring attention to it as well as alert us all about the consequences if there was no change, but who listened?
what was your relation with him?
Answer – Very good relationship, he liked me, and I had great respect for him. I had a rear opportunity to play in his band as a drummer for a few days in the early 70s while he was doing regular gigs at Kakadu Night Club, Yaba in Lagos, Nigeria when his drummer and band leader of his Africa 70 band was ill, and boy, it was a great experience for me, first to play afrobeat and then in Fela;s band. Fantastic !!!
What did the musicians of Blo become ?
We all have remained in music to date. We returned to Nigeria in 1981-82 and set up a production company ( BLO Productions) We have recorded many hits and raised many artists individually and collectively. Berkely Jones does other business as well. Biddy .O. Wright who replaced Mike Odumosu ( the original ‘O’) after he joined Osibisa is now late. The rest of us are alive and well. Laolu Akins is a top producer with many hit records, Presently runs an independent music production service, own a modern recording studio in Lagos-Nigeria, and works as counsellor with young and needy artists
Who are the artists you produce ?
I have produced a number of highly successful artists from this part ( Nigeria) A few of them are – Orlando Julius, Album- Dance Afrobeat, Mike Okri – Rhumba Dance & Concert Fever, ( for Sony Music Nigeria) Onyeka Onwenu, Christy Essien-Igbokwe, P-Square, Sir, Shina Peters etc
What’s your project for 2012 and the future?
To continue the work of raising the creative awareness of growing artists around us and chart new courses to further expose and integrate the emerging music styles from Nigeria to the world. This work is endless.