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Sunny Ade is the reason I play guitar- Femi Leye

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Femi Leye on stage

This young jazz  guitarist Oluwafemi Ogunleye can be said to have come suddenly from the blues. He was actually looking for platforms to play live shows without success. His first stage performance was in 2012 with a trio. On another occasion, on MUSON Centre  stage, when it was his turn to play, the organizers were packing the drum- set. He was really.  embarrassed. According to him, he has been there in the scene until he met one Ayoola Shadare who wanted him to play African jazz. So, Shadare fondlly called Shaddie, listened to a couple of his songs like” Ayo and Owuro” and was impressed. It was at Shaddie’s event tagged Naijazz Concert that Femi played and he was fantastic with the songs he played. He speaks on his kind of music “My kind of music. They call it Ancient, music for the older generation who actually understand jazz but from a young person”.

Femi then went on to do backup for such producers as Don jazzy but was still recording his own songs. He finally released a debut in September 2015.

At a young age, Femi was listening to music by Ebenezer Obey, Orlando Owoh, I K Dairo, Sunny Ade up till when he was 14 when he heard George Benson and his love for jazz began. And then listening to Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Norman Brown and so on after which he heard Kunle Ayo, Femi Temowo, Agboola Shadare etc He was really inspired by them all but he wanted to come from another angle realising the complexity of the Nigerian music market. His music must be different, unique. You can hear some highlife, some bebop etc but you will find an element of creativity in his songs.

Femi plays drums and piano too. He produces his songs himself. But why the guitar? He replies “Fantastic question. My dad bought my first box guitar and later the electric guitar. I’m self-taught. I listened to all songs and the guitar works in them. I went round meeting the guitarists like Jazz Paparazi who taught me the chords and I rehearsed. Sunny Ade is the reason I play the guitar. The tone. I wanted to play like him.”

Femi studied Food Science at Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro. He intends to make his father proud by going to food technology eventually but music will not be jettisoned.

The afro jazz guitarist agrees with complaints going round that Nigerian jazz artistes box themselves into gospel jazz. He sees this as a lack of exposure for these artistes. He sights examples of instrumentalists who play gospel and whose songs can still appeal to any jazz lover, christian or muslim. “I can say this for Deji and Kunle and a few others. I still play in church and I do gigs where you have all kinds of people in the audience. I won’t give them only gospel songs.”.

With the few jazz concerts in Nigeria, Femi believes jazz pays his bills. Hear him “I will say am blessed. All I have including my car are a result of being a jazz musician. I feel meeting the right people is the key and that can only happen by the grace of God and believing in what you do.” He also emphasized on what he calls “packaging” “The musician should dress well and not talk anyhow. Speak good English. Have faith in yourself. If you want to be taken seriously,be serious. The content of your music must be good for the jazz lover.”.

Femi has played on the same stage with Norman Brown when he came to Lagos for the International Jazz Day. According to him, there will be a Femi Leye/Norman Brown song soon. He also adds that he also scats like Brown too. There’s an agreement to this deal.

In future, he wants to produce music for others before the end of this year. He has started writing songs for the next album and the way he wants the songs to be and the people he will feature in a few of the songs have been concluded.

The debut album “E kaa bo” is a 10 tracker with the title track, Smile, Orin ife, Owuro, Wewe, Ayo among others. The album is aimed at introducing Femi as a jazz guitarist, telling his story. According to him, he’s in competition with himself. There will be more international collaborations with foreign stars such as Yossou N’Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Leonard Loueke, Richard Bona, Jimmy Dludlu and so on.

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