Juwon Ogungbe
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Juwon Ogungbe

London, England, United Kingdom | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | SELF

London, England, United Kingdom | SELF
Established on Jan, 2013
Band World Afropop




"Juwon Ogungbe and Outerglobe present Progress Ceremony - Upstairs at The Ritzy"

With Juwon Ogungbe’s forth-coming revisiting of his highly acclaimed Progress Ceremony (A Yoruba Social Ritual for Our Times) taking place on July 9th 2014 at The Forge, London, UK Vibe thought this would be the opportune time to give you a preview of what to expect. Earlier this year, African Divo Arts in conjunction with www.outerglobe.co.uk (spearheaded by Debbie Golt) put on a full programme, “Upstairs at the Ritzy” dedicated to the Yoruba language and music.

The ceremony’s creator Juwon Ogungbe sung a solo prelude piece, ‘Ilosiwaju’ or ‘Progress’ prior to being interviewed by compere and co-organiser Debbie Golt from Outerglobe. Debbie asked Juwon to explain the essence of Progress Ceremony and the reason for the title of his stunning debut album release, ‘Life Force Music,’ which juwon did very eloquently.

Debbie Golt, then swiftly handed the stage over to Juwon and his cohorts. Before Mr Ogungbe even uttered a word, as is tradition, it was the drum which spoke first. Percussionist Roger Allotey embraced under his arm a smaller version of the Djembe drum, which he pounded on for a full thirty seconds to officially signal the start of the Ceremony.

Juwon, who was now permitted to speak, and as the band prepared for the Second Affirmation Juwon proceeded to greet his guests, “Welcome, you meet us well here today. Progress “Ilosiwaju” is what we’re here to ask for. We’re asking our ancestors and the Yoruba deities to smile at us so we can boldly stride ahead… Before we ask our ancestors to do anything, we must honour them… They belong to us and we belong to them.”

The collective then continued on with the Second Affirmation, Figure Two “Kissing the Earth.” In fact the whole program was divided into a series of twelve affirmations with eighteen sub-divisions or figures. At times Juwon would take time out to introduce an affirmation, at other times the ensemble would segue smoothly from one affirmation to the next. Part one of the concert was made up of seven “Affirmations” and nine “Figures,” the aforementioned “kissing the Earth,” “Incantation,” “Ms Nigeria,” “For the Gate-Keeper,” “Interlude,” “Ore Mi Chop Chop,” “Calling out,” and “Who Really Knows?” All offerings were warmly received before a short intermission was announced.

Part two began with the Eighth Affirmation and the Tenth Figure, “A Candle for the Egun”. The ninth affirmation and eleventh figure, “River of Love” gave Juwon the chance to fully exercise his lungs and project his rich baritone vocals, in tandem with some “Hi-Life-esq” guitar riffs from Greg Saunders. With a few adjoining words, our protagonists and story-teller introduced the brief skit, Figure Twelve, “Water Libation” – “We will now pour a libation for the ancestors and deities.”

“The world is not a fair place, but even those who lack wealth have something else to give from their hearts.” This was Juwon’s philosophical introduction to figure thirteen – “Scratch My Back,” the first of four Figures within the Tenth Affirmation. This jaunty upbeat ditty was quickly followed by “The Egun’s Approval,” which asks the ancestors If they have accepted the offering. Special mention at this juncture must be made to Suzette Llewellyn (visual interpreter/signer) and Derek Nisbet (visual back-drops) for their sterling preparation and subsequent translation of the evening via sign language and illuminating picture slides, respectively.

The Tenth Affirmation was rounded off by Figures fifteen and sixteen, “Counting My Blessings”and “The Man in the Kitchen.” The eleventhth affirmation, “We Give Thanks,” was an all-out expression of just that, the ensemble giving thanks via a supremely effervescent, energised and rousing display of musicianship. Juwon took this opportunity to give thanks to his supporting cast, introducing each musician independently allowing them to bask in the spotlight and freestyle on their individual instruments. Roger Allotey laid down the gauntlet with a supreme master class in percussion; at times it seemed as if he had eight arms. Greg Sanders and Rotel Haguel followed suit on guitar and bass guitar, respectively. Then the engine room of the ensemble, Euston Liburd on drums was named-checked and duly took his cue to lay down his own funky drummer solo.

A fabulous evening of Yoruba music, education and enlightenment was brought to its conclusion by ensemble leader and program arranger Juwon Ogungbe. As the band played on Juwon thanked Derek Nisbet (visuals), Suzette Llewellyn (signer), and the DJ Mr K (Limpopo Club), before going on to say, “Thank you all for being here, thank you to our compere and PR co-ordinator Debbie Golt, thank you very much!” He then continued singing the chorus To “We Give Thanks.”, “We thank you, we thank you for showing us the way.” As the prolonged cheers of appreciation died down, Juwon added the final postscript, “We can’t take our riches to the grave, but we can leave something useful for others to benefit from.” - Michael Edwards

"Juwon Ogungbe"

Baritone singer, composer, writer and performer, Juwon Ogungbe was born in London and educated in the UK and Nigeria. He has worked or performed for venues and organisations in London, the USA and elsewhere.

What are your earliest memories of Nigeria?
My earliest memories are linked to the day my mother, brother, sister and I first arrived in Lagos as a family in 1970. We went to my uncle's house in Surulere in Lagos. The family sang hymns and prayed in thanksgiving for our safe arrival. I went out to play in the back yard and was scared of the lizards and other animals I hadn't seen in New Barnet before that.

When and where was your first public performance?
Probably about four years of age. I sang to some workers at the local gasworks in New Barnet. In Nigeria it would have been at school. There was one carol service at Kings College Lagos where I caused a stir when I sang a solo.

Were you influenced by specific African musicians or composers at the beginning of your career?
It depends on which point I choose to describe as the beginning of my career. Afrobeat as performed by Fela Anikulapo Kuti was the soundtrack to my days in university. Ebenezer Obey was a fine role model for young musicians, as was Victor Uwaifo. In the 'art music' sphere, I was aware of Fela Sowande's music and liked it. Dayo Dedeke was also an influence of sorts.

How would you describe your voice?
My voice is of baritone range. It is quite unique sounding and it's taken me all of my life up till now to get used to it. Some years ago i went back to the first school I ever attended in New Barnet for an anniversary event. There was one teacher there who remembered me as the child with the special voice.

How do you look after it?
I do my best to practise every day, with scale exercises and old Italian arias that are used for work on technique. I have a singing teacher who coaches me regularly in the varied repertoire that I perform. Nowadays I'm aware of the need to pace myself vocally, so there are times when I feel the need to avoid noisy bars, for example.

Do you see yourself as an educator as much as a musician?
If education is a means by which values and knowledge are passed from generation to generation, then the answer is yes. I don't see myself as a teacher in the formal sense of the term.

Nigeria is.....
An entity that is still finding a reason to exist, for many of its citizens. A nation that will eventually find a set of values that can be cherished and adhered to by all its nationals, hopefully.
- Time Out Nigeria 50

"Juwon Ogungbe - Life Force Music"

Life Force Music

Released early this year on the Second Generation label, Juwon Ogungbe's Life Force Music is this amazingly versatile artist's debut album. From opera to world music to pop, Ogungbe tackles it all, though not necessarily all on this album of course.

Or does he? Life Force Music is virtually impossible to classify and delightfully crosses over and blends Afro rhythms, mainstream popular music and classical elements.

The first thing to strike you about Life Force Music is Ogungbe's warm and smooth operatic baritone. A powerful voice that certainly asserts itself most determinedly and pleasantly. However, operatic voice production is one of many that is native to Africa, and so this could be considered as much representative of this as of classical music. The keyboard work is also excellent and on These Things Are Sent To Test Us includes a brief delicious touch of what sounds like steel pan. The African-based grooves are completely irresistible.

The songs are well constructed and represent a rich mix of social and historical commentary and personal experience in the lyrics. Oh, and take Ogungbe's word for it - A Taste Of Pepper a day really does keep the doctor away! Scotch Bonnet peppers - the hottest, tastiest chilies - have kept me good all my life to be sure.

Consistent throughout, Life Force Music is irresistible rather than just compelling. This is a remarkably fresh and refreshing album that has great charm. Not to mention a really remarkable booming voice! And those grooves really get into your dancing feet. An altogether fabulously enjoyable listen.

Juwon Ogungbe's Life Force Music gets to you very quickly, or even instantly. It is also something completely different that you really ought to give a try.

© 2012 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

Track List:

1. Keep On Being My Own Man - 5:54
2. Strong Willed - 4:54
3. Beautiful Thing - 4:37
4. Don't Play Games With Me - 5:07
5. A Taste of Pepper - 4:47
6. Leaving For The Last Time - 4:50
7. These Things Are Sent To Test Us - 3:23
8. Doing My Black Thing - 4:55 - Rich Rainlore's World of Music

"Juwon Ogungbe Does His OwnThing"

Juwon Ogungbe has a powerful voice. His full baritone soars through the songs on this, his first CD. Life Force Music was launched in London (on Second Generation Records) in March 2012. There are plans to launch it in Nigeria in the near future. It represents the work of a developed voice, someone who has been composing and performing for several years. This CD captures Juwon's breadth of compositions and his storytelling ability.

At the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, while studying Composition and Opera, Juwon became interested in the ways that different genres of music connect. He understood from a teacher that the vocabulary of composition should be as wide as possible. Spending part of his youth in Lagos, Nigeria, Juwon remembers, “The streets were always blaring with music, from the Disco of Donna Summer to the Afrobeat of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. All of these were influences.” Life Force Music carries the range of these influences from the thoughtful, melodic "Leaving For the Last Time" (Sample/Purchase MP3) to the upbeat, dance of "Doing My Black Thing." (Sample/Purchase MP3) It connects the worlds of pop, soul, classical and African music in a strong and fluid way.

"Keep on Being My Own Man" (Sample/Purchase MP3) starts the CD. It is a soulful track, with the focus on keyboards and voice. The keyboards keep a steady rhythm, while Juwon's versatile voice moves from the very deep to much higher notes. This is a voice that you want to follow as he hits those higher notes. The words "Keep on Being My Own Man" are repeated throughout the song, reinforcing the rhythm, becoming hypnotic. The keyboards break mid-track to take a funky solo, bringing life to the music. "Keep on Being My Own Man," is both a personal reflection of an African man's self-determination living in the West, while also making a universal statement by referencing Africa, "my brothers are dying to keep our homeland." Juwon describes the writer Toni Morrison as an inspiration. Morrison talks of a power in writing that can capture both the personal and universal at the same time.

Juwon has performed and written evocative music for theater. He understands the vitality of story: 'Storytelling is consciously a part of African culture, the use of proverbs and parables to make a point. The storytelling mode is primary. An African audience will ask the question, Does this convey meaning? Why is it necessary?'"

A highlight of the CD is "A Taste of Pepper." (Sample/Purchase MP3) On this track, Juwon's sense of theater and play shines through. His grandmother's wisdom is captured in the vocals, "My Grandmama say, you must to taste some pepper every day, make una mouth no dey water! Pepper soup e dey sweet for mouth, pepper soup dey do good things for body!"

Here her wisdom is wrapped up in a song which is at once danceable and energetic. This is the music at its best. Here the quick, punctuated Yoruban words work well with the upbeat rhythm:

"O dun, O nta san san. Obe dun, obe nta san san" (Yoruba)
"It's tasty, it's so spicy! The soup is tasty, the soup is so spicy." (English translation)

As the CD comes to an end, the listener is left wanting a taste more of Juwon's sound.

More about Juwon Ogungbe and his music can be found at: http://www.juwonogungbe.co.uk/

Life Force Music can be purchased at iTunes and Amazon.com and at live events.

Juwon Ogungbe Elsewhere on the Web
Official Juwon Ogungbe Website
Q&A With Juwon Ogungbe at AfricaCentre.org
Juwon Ogungbe Interview on OH TV (Video)

- world music.about.com


Life Force Music ( Second Generation 2012)

All the tracks on this album have been played on radio stations eg BBC Radio 3, BBC London, Radio Nova, Colourful, Resonance FM and many others worldwide on local and streamed programmes.

Life Force Music is on regular play on www.radioairplay.com



Juwon Ogungbe's  unique musicality has evolved from his upbringing and education in both Nigeria and the UK. Sounds associated with "World Music", plus the ambitious musicianship of his peers in groups such as the Jazz Warriors and Loose Tubes attracted his interest around the same time. His innate curiosity and experimental nature gave him the inclination to lead bands with the Afro-Jazz sensibility that still intrigues him.

Juwon's flair for creating evocative songs and sounds was soon noticed by theatre makers and he was welcomed into their world.Ogungbe at this point decided to study composition privately, and later at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He later formed a music theatre ensemble and started creating African classical music theatre works, which were well received on tours. His voice teacher advised him to join an opera group, opening up a new vista for him, which still occupies a significant space in Juwon's musical vocabulary.

 After working as a theatre music director in major houses such as the Royal Court Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse, Juwon was commissioned to compose music for shows at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, Greenwich and Docklands Festival, LIFT and the Royal Shakespeare Company, amongst many others.
Also developing his skills as a bandleader, Juwon led several groups, including a touring African Big Band in 1996. In 1999 he took a break from band leading, opting to focus on composing, singing and devising in 3 artist residency initiatives, on the pioneering internet radio station, Gaialive, for The Year of the Artist (2000), for the V&A Museum of Childhood (2002) and H.M.P Wormwood Scrubs (2003).

Juwon has led many ambitious creative learning projects for wide ranging music and theatre organisations. One of the most memorable of these is "Tango Masquerades", which he devised and led for Lontano,the contemporary music ensemble, in Buenos Aires. The project brought together young Argentinians with orchestral musicians to pay tribute to the Afro-Argentine progenitors of Tango music and dance.

Apart from Progress Ceremony, Juwon leads two groups - The Vocal Ensemble of Africa and the Life Force Band.
Juwon's debut album "Life Force Music" was released in 2013, produced by Noel Inyang. In that same year, Juwon formed a music theatre ensemble in Zimbabwe that performed his music theatre adaptation of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice to wide acclaim at the Harare International Festival of Theatre (HIFA).

Also in 2012, Juwon was an international visiting scholar at the University of Richmond, Virginia, USA, where he composed music for Threshold - a show inspired by Amos Tutuola's novel - The Palm Wine Drinkard.
2013 saw the further development of Threshold, in London, plus a US/UK/Off West End tour of "Zhe" - another show Juwon composed for. 

Later that year, Juwon composed and performed in "Homage to Canning Town African Ancestors" for Iroko Theatre Company, and led research and development work on Progress Ceremony - an ambitious piece inspired by Yoruba ritual and ceremonies.

2014 has seen the premiere production of Threshold, in the University of Richmond, with Juwon working in the company as musical director and as a performer. 

Shortly after his return to the UK, Juwon was invited to Addis Ababa to contribute to the African Re-Imagination Creative Hub, hosted by the African Union. The hub formulated policies to be included in Agenda 2063, the Africa Union's 50 year plan. He also took part in a commemorative recording with musicians from all over Africa.

BBC Radio 3 has recently broadcast an 80th birthday tribute production of Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka's "Death and the King's Horseman", with Juwon's input as the composer and music director.

Placing African music at the heart of his work, Juwon Ogungbe is an inspiring and  well respected musician/singer/composer/band leader from London, of Nigerian heritage.

Band Members