SIJI with RICH MEDINA , JOJOFLORES , MAT CHRYSDALE , MISAYO , SEAN SAX and TODDY FLORES at Roxy Blu (12 Brant), Friday (January 14). $15 before midnight, more after. www.gotsoulrecords.com. Rating: NNNNN
It sometimes feels like everything has already been done in music, but then someone combines a few more genres and suddenly a new sound emerges.
New York City-based producer and songwriter Siji calls his style Afro-soul. It's a combination of modern soul music and Afrobeat influences, with a bit of deep house flavour mixed in. You can hear his strong love of R&B stalwarts like Al Green in his vocals and melodies, but the beats are flipped in that trademark off-kilter Fela Kuti style.
Unlike many artists referencing Kuti these days, Siji actually comes by the influence honestly, having lived in Nigeria for 12 years as a child before returning to London (where he was born). For the past three and a half years he's been based in NYC, where he hooked up with Osunlade (who's also known for incorporating Afro influences into his sound). That association led Osunlade to loan Siji his studio to record his new album, God-Given.
So is this African music, UK soul or NYC deep house?
"Both Nigeria and England influenced me equally," Siji explains from his hotel in Ohio as he waits to play a gig. "There are traces of the Nigerian influence on the album, but not as much as I'd like. I'd have to go to Nigeria to do that properly - it's hard to find drummers who can play that style here, and you need a bigger studio to properly record a real drummer.
"New York is crazy. It's very energy-driven, a grind that never lets up. I can see myself staying here for a while, but it's not really a home."
There are a lot of live elements in his sound, and much of his palette betrays a heavy debt to Stevie Wonder. However, it's still a modern album, and through the magic of electronics Siji was able to play almost all of it himself. He's since put together a full band, and says he hopes the next recording can capture more of that live energy.
"I recorded a bunch of tracks in 1996, and it was completely live. It was never released, so I plan to put it out as soon as I can. At this upcoming show, I'll just be singing over backing tracks, which isn't my preference. It doesn't have the same feeling as playing with a band; I like to feed off the live drums, but it costs a lot to take a full band on the road. I will be bringing some percussion to this gig, though, which I'll be playing while I'm singing."
His album's been getting good reviews, but more people are aware of him through Osunlade's house remixes of Feels Like and the more recent release, Sanctuary. The remixes might modernize his sound a bit, but his roots in classic soul music are still front and centre.
"I initially got into this sound through the rare groove scene in London in the 1980s. There were all these DJs playing obscure and rare old soul and R&B records. Those classic songs have more passion. Modern music seems gimmicky to me - it's just commerce - whereas old music feels more real. It feels likes they were making that music for different reasons."