Yemi Conga: Keeping up with the Percussionist

Yemi Conga

Yemi Adebeshin popularly known as Yemi Conga, is a percussionist. Adebeshin, whose love for the arts started quite early from the church as a drummer boy, has since evolved from percussions to music. In this interview with  Sunday Ehigiator, the college graduate of Journalism and Creative Writing in Johannesburg, South Africa is presently basking in the euphoria of his debut album, ‘The Culture Experience’. Although he is known in some circles in Atlanta, Georgia where he is based for his music, his homecoming to Nigeria is to replicate same phenomenon not just as percussionist but as a musician. Excerpts: 


Tell us about your new album?

My new album titled, ‘The Culture Experience’ with about 12 tracks, and one instrumental just dropped. As an artist, I am into Afro-Jazz. That is the genre of music I do. So if you listen to my album, it is a world music album were you will be thrilled by smooth Jazz, world Afro-Jazz tracks, and some good poetry. Also in my album, because I do African Jazz, I kind of infuse Yoruba folktales in my music and lyrics, to promote my culture. 

The star track of the album is ‘Fere Ode’; meaning ‘Hunters Whistle’ in English. All the tracks are very nice but the ‘Fere Ode’ is just one that carries a lot of message I want to pass to the whole world in my own creative way; especially in Nigeria. I was inspired to write the song one of those days while I was recording in my studio.  Then the hook came to mind of how a stray dog that fails to heed to the whistle of the hunter could go. So that was how I wrote the whole song in the studio.


What kind of experience should listeners and your fans be expecting when listening to your album? 

Well, as a listener or fan, if you listen to my album, what you are going to get is real music; be it the sound or lyrics, you will feel the authenticity in the music. For my fans, I will really want them to continue to support my music and listen to them, and share it with their friends and families. And moving forward, they can always expect the best from me.


So generally, what inspires you to sing?

I am not much of a singer, I am more of a drummer but I talk with my drums and write the songs I sing myself. All my songs are original from me. But then, I could get inspired to write and sing anything. It could be my mood, circumstances, movies, books,life experiences etc. So I am inspired by anything.


Have you worked with any popular artist as a drummer?

Yes. I tell people I grew up in South Africa because I was quite young when I left; about 17 years old. And to me, I think I actually just started my life when I moved down there. So that is were my music career actually kicked off, so I have worked more with popular South African household names in the entertainment industry. I have worked with Zounke-Dekana, Don-Laka, Lera, even Kunle Ayo; who is a Nigerian artist and very good with the guitar. I have worked with him and helped in recording about two of his albums. I have likewise worked with several international artists and so on.


How did you come about the name Yemi Conga?  

The name arose when I wanted to start my branding as a Percussionist. The guy designing my website and creating my online media platforms just suggested as we were deliberating that since my name is Yemi and I play the Conga; very easy, lets just match both. That was how it came about. And interestingly, I am the first artist  among several others to have the Conga affiliation to his name as a brand identity. I know several others that sprung up long after me, but I remain the first in the entertainment industry to come up with that. 


Of all instruments you can play, why Conga?

Growing up, I always play drum on everything; dishes, table, railings, etc. So there have always being that innate ability within me for drums; hence it was just natural for me to fall in love with drums. So I just grew up playing drums, from there I joined the choir and was playing Conga for the church and grew. So it started from home, then to the choir and now to the world. And you are right, I actually like keyboard and base-guitar, but I think drums for me is what I best resonate with. So taking Conga away from me is like I am naked.


Any plans for a collaboration with any Nigerian top artist?  

Yes, that is something I’ll love to do with people like Lagbaja; you know and few of the Afro-Pop guys whose music resonates with mine. People like ‘Salz on the beat’, etc. You know, because I live in South Africa for so long, I kind of like house music a lot. And you know, Salz produced a lot of Wizkid’s beats and some other popular artists we all know. So I will like to work with him, and someone like ‘Falz the bad guy’; he is very musical, and a couple of other guys.


Since you are more familiar to music industry outside Nigeria, why the sudden homecoming to launch your album?

For me, because I am just starting to become an artist, I needed to start from home. But being a percussionist, a lot of big name Nigerian musicians, journalists and promoters know me and my name. But as an artist, I am known and fast growing in Atlanta Georgia were I am based. And in Nigeria, I decided to start here because people need to know me as a musician; and that this is my root. And I also think the market is good here too. Although, my genre is not as big as Pop in Nigeria; which is what most musicians are into here in Nigeria. But I do believe that if I give people the chance to listen to something different from what they have being used to, they would better appreciate good music.


Who are your audience? 

My audience is simple; anybody that is interested in good music. Young, old, middle-age, adult, etc. It is meant for them.


Is there a likelihood of going into other genres of music?

No. I don’t think I would want to do that. I am a Jazz Artist and will I stick to that. But, I try to accommodate other people; most especially Pop, because I infuse a little bit of it into my music. Like one of the tracks from my album titled, ‘Iya Elepa’; it is in-between Afro-Pop and Afro-Jazz.


If you can change anything in the music industry, what will that be?

It is the way a novice gets into music just because they want to blow. Music in Nigeria right now is unbelievable. People will just get money from anywhere, record a beat, and then start promoting on Radio and Television with all the money to throw around. And that affects the likes of us that makes good, real, and meaningful music for a living; not just for money. I want money, but aside wanting money, music is who I am, and there are messages we pass with songs capable of transforming the society. This is what real music should be. 


How was growing up? 

I was born in Lagos, but I hail from Ogun State. I was born to a family of seven; parents inclusive. My growing up was pretty chilled. My family wasn’t a rich family but we were comfortable. I was brought up in a Christian home in the Celestial Church of Christ family. And that helped a lot in grooming my skills. I have always known I was going to be an artist, but the obstacle was real with family too. My dad of blessed memory of him, was the strict one of my both parents. I remember how difficult it used to be to convince my Dad to allow me go for practice in church; even when he knew I was the main drummer boy for the church in Abeokuta then. But he was always bent on me facing my studies. While my mum was very supportive and easy on me. Even when I goon an outing with the Lagos Choir, she would give me robes and other things I may need for the days I would be away. Well, I wished I could fully grasp my fathers motives for me before his demise, but I remember he wanted me to be a Linguist because he was a Linguist. We lost him while I was about rounding up my secondary education, but I am glad to have being able to attain this height though I wished he was alive to see this happen. 


How About Your Educational Background?

I started from Stepping Stone Nursery and Primary School  in Satellite Town, then went to Baptist Boys High School Abeokuta, and from there I travelled to Johannesburg where I studied Journalism and Creative Writing in their college and from there to the United States where I also did few other certification.


How long have you done music and when did your first album debut?  

I’ll say I have been playing music all my life, but professionally, I’ll say for about 15 years. I actually first did my first studio recording in South Africa in 2010, where I recorded two singles one of which was ‘Iya Elepa’.


What is your message to Nigerians?

I just want people to know that Afro-Beat is actually Afro Jazz. I am trying to educate people because Afro-Beat has gone viral. Education is power. The likes of Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid; what they are doing is Afro-Pop not Afro-Beat. Afro-Beat is what Fela Kuti, Lagaja and the likes were doing. Afro-Beat and Afro-Jazz is the same thing. But now; when you ask these big guy who the creator of Afro-Beat was, they don’t even know. They might even say Fela Kuti; No. The rhythm was created by Tony Allen; he was Fela-Kuti’s first drummer. He created the beat, but Fela Kuti created the music for the beat. So if you are doing Pop and you are calling it Afro beat, I don’t know where you got that from. There is a big distinction between the two of them. Afro Beat always has a Jazz element with the rhythm as created by Tony Allen, while Afro-Pop is just a dance beat.