×

Sounds Local: Shokazoba aims to energize your mind, stimulate your soul

  • Shokazoba is a 10-piece band from Northampton that plays jazz funk that is rooted in the rhythmic heavy Afrobeat sounds of the late Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

If the recent spat of snow storms have left you feeling house-band and restless, a Shokazoba show might be just what you need. This 10-piece band from Northampton play a jazz funk mix that is rooted in the rhythmic heavy Afrobeat sounds of late Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti. It’s music that is made for dancing, but Shokazoba — who are influenced by the social activism of Kuti — hope to inspire its audience with their socially conscious and politically charged lyrics.

Shokazoba has a series of shows coming up in Pioneer Valley, starting Friday night, when they perform at Bishop’s Lounge in Northampton at 10 p.m. The next night, Saturday, Feb. 18, they will be at the Root Cellar in Greenfield at 9:30 p.m. with local gem JAM-ATAN (abina) opening at 8. Next month, find them at The Deuce Club (World War II Club) in Northampton on Saturday, March 4, at 8 p.m. as part of the Homeward Vets Winter Music Festival. Then they will play the Warwick Town Hall on Saturday, March 18, at 8 p.m.

I recently caught up with Jason Moses — vocalist/keyboardist/percussionist for the band — and we talked about Shokazoba’s longevity, its origins as a Fela Kuti tribute project and its’ role as socially active musicians during these turbulent times.

Sounds Local: Shokazoba recently celebrated its 12th anniversary, what do you attribute to your longevity?

Jason Moses: The greatest tangible contributing factors to Shokazoba’s longevity are our passions for this music and the continued positive feedback we receive from our fans. There has never been a musical experience had by anyone in this group that has delivered such a robust level of creative satisfaction outside of Shokazoba. When all the variables at play line up for a great Shokazoba show, for us there’s no finer place to be anywhere in the entire universe. We have nothing but immense gratitude for the intangible forces which allow this project to roll along with seemingly renewable downhill momentum.

SL: I know the band started out as a Fela Kuti tribute project. What initially attracted you to Kuti’s music? And when did Shokazoba start incorporating their own material into the mix?

JM: Personally, I was permanently hooked by Fela’s afro-beat from the very first moment of the very first song I ever heard (Lady on Shakara/The London Scene). I listened to it backwards and forwards until I had memorized every single note and lyrical nuance. I had never heard music like it before, and have never connected creatively with anything since in nearly 20 years.

Why you ask? The live energy, the harmonic tensions, the intellectual stimulation, the polyrhythmic undulations, the potent lyrical consciousness, the infectious and inevitable and unrelenting dance, and the deliberate ritually communal accessibility. His music would tickle the ears of the intellectually informed jazz head while completely stimulating the feet of the avid dancer without alienating anyone else in the room in the process. His lyrical intentions of dispelling dominant cultural illusions while elevating human consciousness is inspiring on a wildly successful plane of artistic achievement — especially when you learn of the history of his life.

Simply put: an absolutely amazing human creating absolutely remarkable art with absolutely admirable intentions and execution. Shokazoba has attempted to compose original material from the very early stages of our existence, but we didn’t settle for anything less than what we thought Fela might find acceptable. He is our heroic inspiration.

SL: It seems that Shokazoba has successfully used the internet as a way to reach more listeners. Can you tell us about your decision to post many of your concerts on archive.org and to allow people to download them at no cost?

JM: Several of the musicians and creative collaborators in Shokazoba’s early years were well steeped in music festival culture, which had given rise to a decades old tradition of freely sharing live concert recordings. What was previously propagated by audio tapes sent through snail mail networks now nearly entirely exists on the internet in various virtual compilations such as archive.org.

We have been following in that path of intention ever since our first few shows over a dozen years ago with a desire be a part of the American underground countercultural tapestry. The level of success achieved with well over 1 million downloads remains a happy mystery.

SL: You have quite a few local shows coming up. How would you explain a Shokazoba show to someone who has never attended one before?

JM: When all goes according to plan, attendees at our shows just can’t stop dancing and won’t stop smiling. They hear and absorb the lyrics while shaking their heads in knowing agreement. Our music is designed to move your feet, energize your mind, and stimulate your soul. By the time the second and third sets are nearing completion, people are demanding more music and hollering with glee after the end of every song. It’s quite literally the most fun in music any of us has ever had, and I believe the same can be said for our regular fans. A Shokazoba show is something that needs to be experienced to be fully understood.

SL: Looking back, can you recall a show that was a particular favorite?

JM: That’s not an easy question to answer. We love our regular club gigs in (Pioneer) Valley, elsewhere in New England, and the scene at The Shrine in Harlem is thriving. We’re excited for the way 2017 is shaping up with several festivals and new locations added to our circuit. Shokazoba’s already booking into July and August with some special opportunities coming our way for which we’re truly grateful. There have been so many amazing shows over the course of the last year that meet all the appropriate qualifying criteria, let alone over the last 12 years or so. We are fortunate enough that quite literally any show on any given night can be the best show we’ve ever had.

SL: As a band that is committed to positive social change, what do you feel your role is during these challenging times of the Trump presidency?

JM: I believe Shokazoba’s role is largely unchanged, however, the intensity of our creative expression may ratchet upward by several notches. The topics we sing about have been around for a long time and Donald Trump is merely a symptom of the greater social issues that have allowed for the unfortunate growth of the alt-right sociopolitical agenda. We will continue to follow our destiny and attempt to move in the direction set forth long ago by Fela Anikulapo Kuti — away from corruption and toward help, healing, and equality for all beings. These are long-term goals and long lived issues. We were ready to come on board with the beautiful political revolutionary energy generated and galvanized by Bernie Sanders’ movement, and we are equally poised to be a clear present progressive voice in the muddied mess of Donald Trump’s blithering bigoted dribble. Shokazoba will continue on as long as we feel a need to play this music and as long as we’re physically able to do so.

SL: Is that intensity of creative expression currently being reflected in your songwriting? And on that same topic, when can we expect to hear new music from Shokazoba?

JM: A new level of intensity is indeed being reflected in our songwriting. Our new music, instead of dwelling on political particulars and societal inequities, delves deeper into the human psyche dealing directly with our common behavioral issues as a human community while maintaining a strong hopefulness for our potential to heal and help each other. It’s one thing to diagnose and draw attention to a problem, but it’s a whole other level of responsibility to offer a solution and follow through to resolution. We are currently working on amassing a large enough body of new work to justify another studio project, perhaps with a vinyl release this time around, hopefully within the next year.

To learn more, visit:
www.shokazoba.com

Sheryl Hunter is a music
writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in
various regional and national
magazines. You can contact her
at soundslocal@yahoo.com.