As award-winning Nigerian guitarist and producer Kunle Ayo puts the final touches on the forthcoming release of the legendary Hugh Masekela, he is set to rock the music industry with his first solo album in four years.
With Atunse: The Revolution, Ayo looks set to affirm his reputation. The album features collaborations with acts such as Bra Hugh himself on ‘Ayobami’, as well as as Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi on the first single ‘Ile’, Grammy-nominated American saxman Kirk Whalum on ‘Nothing to Something’, South African pianist Africa Mkhize on ‘Happy to Know You’, and Bholoja from Swaziland on ‘Iroju’.
Ayo explains that his interaction with the guest artists was such that "it was time to feature them on my album. Bra Hugh is like a father to me and he's been trying to get me to understand a few things which came to be on this album. I'm producing his new project as a result of this relationship as well. People will love what we did here, and how it translated to his own album as well."
As for Mtukudzi, Mkhize and Whalum, Ayo points out that they are personalities he has loads of respect for. "Having them on the project was a blessing that will translate to people who come across what we've managed to achieve together. It is all remarkable!" he said.
The South African-based Nigerian artist, who also produced Simphiwe Dana’s latest album Firebrand, says his new album is a remake of some of his old songs, and an elevation of his sound, hence the title Atunse (‘redo’ in Yoruba). "You know what they say about revamping, it's usually comes out better,” he explains. "It's a different sound from my other albums because we are fusing new ideas and moving the music with the times, without losing its musicality. I believe that we need to pick up our lives wherever we find ourselves in unpleasant situations and find a way to ‘redo’ life.
“We must not let life knock us down,” he continues. ”I encourage people to dust themselves off, stand up and move right on again, which was my personal experience. All things in life are experiences we best learn from.”
Kunle reveals that his divorce in 2011 was one of the reasons why the new album, the follow-up to 2013’s Jazzing Up His Praise, Volume 1, took so long. He admits that he went through a rough patch following the break-up, “so I took my time to heal and be sure that the album doesn't suffer. Just one listen, the listeners will attest to this, and they will be sold!” he says confidently.
As an artist and producer Ayo has earned numerous awards, including a Kora (2004), Metro FM Music Award (2011), Channel O Music Video Awards (2005), a Nigeria Achievement Award (2009) winner and an AFRIMA Award for Best Jazz Artist (2015).
Apart from working with big name artists, Kunle has in the past few years also started working with younger, up-and-coming artists in an attempt to raise their profiles in the music industry. “Being a producer and lover of African music, I decided to help other not-so-known artists as a way of giving back,” he explained. “It started when Bra Hugh called me to assist Gugu Shezi of ‘Table for Two’ fame, whom I co-produced on her latest album. I then went further to help Ayanda Tshabalala, Mosolodi Nteu, Yvonne May, Pastor D and other up-coming names in the industry.
Further proof of his commitment to give back was a recent workshop he hosted in the kingdom of Swaziland on 31 March for 15 budding guitarists, ahead of a concert to launch his new album on 1 April. Shortly before that, the globe-trotting guitarist performed in London alongside Nigerian reggae singer Majek Fashek (who is in the midst of a comeback) and on 21 February played at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival in Nairobi, Kenya alongside American heavyweight Branford Marsalis.
The new album looks set to appease Kunle’s many fans in South Africa and Nigeria, as well as further afield. According to American jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, a nine-time Grammy nominee, "Kunle has a rare combination of gifts: he is able to tell a story simply with a melody on guitar and at the same time, fill the ears of a listener with an incredibly authentic musical point of view. His passion is rooted in his love for his homeland and appreciation for humanity. The music he makes is a thing of beauty."
Atunse: The Revolution can be ordered from iTunes.