“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy!” resonates the repeating reprising refrain from Benin City’s lead track “Work” from their EP “Invisible Cake”. The phrasing, whilst unoriginal, is poignant and surmises the track “Work”, a musical expression of the mind numbing, spirit crushing nature of the 9-to-5 grind in a perfect and fun way!
Kobestarr speaks to Musa Okwonga, one of the lyricists and vocalists of Benin City as he explains how he escaped the daily career turmoil and forming the band. This comes in the lead in to one of their biggest and most important shows on London’s Southbank at the E4 Underbelly on Thursday 1st July.
“I drafted the resignation letter on a Saturday, counted 13 grey hairs and then lay on my bed for hours contemplating what I would be doing on the Monday”. Explains Musa on leaving his job in a Londinium City Law firm to pursue working as a spoken word artist and writer. “I went from a job in the city to earning £6.50 an hour as a waiter in the Poetry Café. I couldn’t have been happier”
Benin City is fronted by Musa and Nigerian born Josh Idehen. The two became friends after Musa overheard Josh at the Poetry Café. “We had a mutual appreciation of each others style and decided to work with each other. It was Josh’s idea to work to music. When told they were they comparable in terms of lyrical flow and content with the UK rappers and spoken word artists Mike Skinner off of the “The Streets” and Scroobius Pip off of “Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip” Musa is genuinely pleased! There is actually a bit of history with Scroobius and the Benin front men.
“The is a lot of mutual respect between Scroobius and us. One night Josh and I took part in a Poetry Slam (like a freestyle rap battle for spoken word) as part of the Poejazzie night at the Poetry Café. Scoobius Pip was also taking part that night.” He explains “The competition ended with me in first place, Scroobius second and Josh third. Scroobius pulled out a lot of his [now] big verses such as ‘A Letter from God to Man’ it was the best night of spoken word that I had ever been involved in. After that Dan le Sac sent over some beats from which we made an EP’s worth of music”. Shortly after that things really took off for Dan and Scroobius after XFM and Radio One picked up “Thou Shalt Always Kill”. They still keep in close contact with each other
They cite their musical influences as everything from “Flying Lotus” to “Led Zepplin” but describe Benin City’s musical style as “Outkast”, for their innovation, meets “James Brown”, for the dynamism of their live shows. Joshua likes to dress as a Stormtrooper for on stage to add to the mêlée. The Starwars variety of course, a Nigerian Nazi Stormtrooper would be wrong on so many levels!
Since the conception of Benin City three years ago the line up has seen many guises. It has now stabilised such that Josh and Musa are augmented by Faye Treacey on Trombone, Theo Buckingham on Drums, Jon Cottle on electric cello and Tom Leaper on Sax. “People always ask why we don’t have a guitar!” laughs Musa, commenting on the line up.
In the same way that the line-up has changed so has the music making process. “We used to come in with a set vocal idea and the music worked around it. Now we all get together more for a jamming session so the tunes come out first and the ideas for the vocal hooks are formed at the time and taken away to be worked on.” Josh often records the sessions on his iPhone for later reflection.
When asked about the future Musa is excited and contemplative. They are looking to tour and visit cities and venues further North and outside of London to see those fans. They’ll also be getting together to record more material towards the end of the summer with the aim of an album release in October. Until then, if you’re in the area be sure to get to the E4 Underbelly and to see them. If you’re walking along the Southbank of the Thames on the 1st of July go in and but a ticket, you can’t miss it. It’s a giant, upturned, udder exposed, purple cow for chrissake!