Opus Akoben
Gig Seeker Pro

Opus Akoben

Band Hip Hop Funk

Calendar

This band hasn't logged any future gigs

This band hasn't logged any past gigs

This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos

Music

Press


"Freestyle and wild."

A hip hop band. The assignment seemed -- how can I put this? -- dull. How much fusion can a journalist-cum-musician be expected to take? Don't get me wrong, the principle is laudable. Ours is the generation of mixing, after all. Done well, fusion music outsmarts other forms by sheer virtue of picking up the best of everyone's art, crossing boundaries and escaping time. It stands the test of technique and lifts the soul to places unreachable when confined by matters as mundane and outdated as form, genre, origin and name. But most of the time, let's be honest, fusion lands both listeners and performers in a bad spot -- a degree or two out from something good, potent. Fusion is such a good idea it's hard to do, let alone do well. And the disappointment of not quite making it is much more painful than failing absolutely in something not worth believing in in the first place.

But Saturday night at the Sawi Centre was different. Let's rephrase that -- it was magic. Hip hop band from Washington DC Opus Akoben and Intissar Abdel-Fattah's troupe of Egyptian musicians came together to hold a workshop, open to musicians from all walks of life, followed by a concert by the American artists. The workshop was alternative in the best sense -- it combined seemingly disparate forms and, based on solid musicianship, the participants created surprising and cohesive improvisations. While hip hop started off as an exclusively urban phenomenon, hailing from the multicultural, marginalised slums of US cities in the wake of the civil rights movement the Egyptian sounds heard at the workshop were ancient expressions originating in the countryside.

Look a little deeper into the two basic components of the workshop -- hip hop and Egyptian folk -- and you find that fusion didn't stop there. Abdel-Fattah's group is itself unique, combining musicians, rhythms and sounds from all corners of Egypt's traditional sound map. "The troupe brings together musical forms from all over Egypt, ranging from Upper Egyptian to Nubian to sounds with origins in the Delta," Abdel-Fattah told Al-Ahram Weekly. And while Opus Akoben may originate in Washington DC the band members' African and Jamaican roots emerge strongly in their music, as did influences as wide-ranging as Latin, reggae and jazz. In effect, the workshop was not about two forms, but rather about breaking down form to create sound and rhythm.

The effect was wild. While numerous percussionists, including several duf and tabla players, drummer Jay Nichols, and Abdel-Fattah on the darbuka, built up a full, energetic foundation as a base for improvisation, audience and participants alike entered a trance achievable only through pronounced, perfect rhythm. Just as the frequency of sound faded and the rhythm became silence, as it were, melody broke in in the form of an Upper Egyptian muzmar. The unnameable rhythmic patterns -- for they were Nubian, African, global, organic all at once -- suddenly became Egyptian. Until, that is, Carl Walker (aka Kokayi) took the microphone and sang improvised lines of soul, then followed them with rapping. Next up was the nay and back we were in Egypt, but by this point it did not matter any more where we were. What mattered was the music. And it just became more and more uplifting as the participants shook off their fear of discovery. The astounding confrontation between the urban and the rural, the sheer magnitude of the feat, secured foremost by the percussionists' command of beat stability and change, and the beauty of the melodic interventions rendered the result electric in its synergy. And it was a workshop, in that participating musicians learned from each other on the spot. At one point the Egyptian vocalist and the US rapper exchanged lines, with the rhythm still beating away, and Arabic improvisations were transformed into soul in an instant.

The entire purpose of the venture, as described by Abdel-Fattah, was to promote cultural dialogue and understanding through the universal language of music. "We work for peace," he told the Weekly. "We have travelled with our music to 17 countries, including, on our latest trip, South Korea. We plan a similar project in the US soon, hopefully visiting several states to carry our message of peace and international, human understanding." And it worked beautifully, if we are to judge from the reactions of Opus Akobe band members. Arriving in Egypt following a Middle East tour that took them to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, they "really liked it," bassist Ezra Greer said. "It's everything -- the rhythms, the people. We came here to play some music, we've found a common language and that's real cool. It gets rid of all the bad stuff, all the news, all the ideas that keep getting pumped into you by politics."

The music did not stop there. Opus Akobe went on to perform their own set later in the evening, featuring bass beats so loud the ground shook and conservatism just had to be swept out. The experience was liberating as group co-founder MC and DJ Terence (aka Sub-Z) Nicholson rapped of "energy much older than hip hop". As vocalist Kokayi smoothed the edges of the hard urban sound with soul softness, a balance was struck between hardness and hope, the street and nature. Rhythms transformed themselves constantly from funk to house to the new Latin fad reggaeton, enough to stir up a crowd any time, anywhere.

If music is about liberation, then Egyptian and hip hop musicians started something in me that night -- something difficult to describe, though impossible not to feel while dancing on the banks of the Nile. "Sometimes," MC Terence told the Weekly, "something happens and you can't describe it until much later. I think that's what's happened to us musicians tonight. The value of this experience will only become apparent later." If music is about expression freestyle is the way to go. It is this that puts traditional Egyptian and accomplished hip hop artists on the same map -- not geography or name, but the recollection of something described by Ezra and Nichols as "the big beat" -- the original, African beat.
- Al-Ahram


"American Hip Hop Group Opus Akoben Jams with Palestinian Youth"

During a tour of the region, the American hip hop group Opus Akoben stopped in Jerusalem to share music and culture with Palestinian youth. During the first day of their visit, the group held a special concert at Bethlehem University, where 800 students crowded the auditorium to dance and shout and let loose. That evening, the band played at Hakawati, the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem. A jam-packed theater turned into a pulsing dance scene, as the music caught the Palestinian youths from area high schools and a hip-hop dance class. The band members will conduct workshops in Ramallah before continuing their regional tour.



- US COnsulate Jerusalem


"Raw Life Album Review"

DC bred, internationally fed hip-hop fusion band, Opus Akoben deliver vivid realities with their much anticipated 2nd album release, Raw Life. "It changes life to living color." Since its June release in France, the album has received rave reviews from the French press and has climbed the European R& B charts well above Lauyren Hill, Ceelo and Blacklicious. Known for their energetic and phenomenal live show, Opus’s infamous blend of hip-hip, rock go- go and reggae translates well as a digital landscape of life’s ills on Raw Life.
On the album, Emcee’s Kokayi, Sub-Z and Black Indian along with their band weave intelligent, edgy and at times ferocious rhymes with pulsating beats and funky live instrumentation. The result is 16 tales of everything from unrequited love, art vs. materialism, emcee battles, the beginnings of love, street life, and the joy of birth.

On track 9 “Forgive Me”, emcee’s Sub-Z and Kokayi wax poetic on the trials of a break-up. Produced by Sub-Z, both emcees express their therapy over wicked sparing melodies.

As Forgive Me opens up, an argument is in progress between Emcee Kokayi and girlfriend (played by poet Lisa Pegram)
Then Sub-Z confesses “ a thousand words couldn’t express the grief I felt when I expressed my transgression/the pain of life’s lessons/ got me stuck keeping this joint savings account and understanding why you’re trying to bounce.”

On forgive me, Kokayi and Sub-Z show us they aren’t afraid to admit they cried, or doubted themselved. The images in the song are something anyone whose been in a relationship can identify with. Yet done the Opus way the listener can’t help but remisnice, perhaps cry and move on.

This is heard in the hook, “ what do you do when the flowers don’t bring her back/what do you do when the talking won’t bring her back/what do you do when the candy won’t bring her back/I guess you say so long, forgive me.”

Forgive Me takes the same honest approach as Outkast’s “Ms Jackson,” displays more maturity than Tribe’s “Bonita Applebaum” and maintains an infectious hook like Pharcyde’s “Passing Me By”. At the song’s end, Kokayi shows off his singing chops by channeling a gospel infused Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By.”

Throughout Raw Life, Opus Akoben paints rhythmic pictures of things we’re all familiar with.

On Epo, Kokayi expounds lovely on responsibility vs. materialism without sounding preachy. Kokayi manages to deliver his message in a subtle and thought-provoking lyrics: “lost your way, house or mansion/no savings for your grandson/its all on your gums/platinum fronts/ tattooed backs/ walls full of plaques/ squint to focus on your action” sings Kokayi who also produced the track.

The combination of the afro-Brazilian beat, vocals and culturally relevant yet catchy hook makes for something smoother than any other song tackling this theme. In the same vein as the Roots “What They Do”, Epo takes listeners to the next level.
The hook is derived from a Yoruba Chant that translates as “Oh King How Great You Are”.

Another track worth noting is an outright “take your skill and pillage” piece, Place to Place. Nothing compares to seeing Opus perform this live. The track, produced by Sub-Z is in some crazy off beat time and is laced with a dizzying flute played by France’s Magik Malik. It’s a great show off of the emcee’s “beyond the universe” lyrical prowess.

Raw life is a breathable, palatable piece of art that doesn’t rely on today’s regular hip-hop formula. Described as more soulful then their first album, Art of War (97’), Raw Life is a record for all seasons. You can dance to it, nod your head, cry, debate and laugh. Its background music for whatever you’re going through. At its simplest it’s lush and good riding music. The Opus approach to making a good record-simply groove and tell a tale as wholeheartedly as possible.
- GetUnderground.Com


"Bands bid to bridge cultural divide"

IT'S music with a message for fans at free hip hop concert in Bahrain tonight. The aim is to bridge the cultural divide and generate interest in studying in the US.

The concert, co-sponsored by the Information Ministry, is part of the US State Department's Study in the US programme

Around 1,000 fans are expected at the open-air concert, featuring hip hop bands from the US, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Four-man US band Opus Akoben is heading the bill at the concert, which begins at 6.30pm, at the Heritage Village, at the Bahrain National Museum.

Hip hop is very popular in the Gulf region and has been chosen as the medium through which to target the youth of Bahrain and interest them in American culture, say organisers.

Opus Akoben has been chosen for its positive lyrics and for reflecting the integrity of the US hip hop scene.

"We have family and are grown up, so we are going to talk about life and love and not the bling," bassist Ezra Greer told GDN at the Sheraton Hotel yesterday.

As part of an initiative organised by the US embassy, the band will also be meeting young Bahrainis to talk about education.

"The band are also doing school visits during their time here to educate people about going to college in the States," said US Embassy public affairs office deputy Press and cultural attaché Mario Crifo.

They are also performing at the Education USA Expo, being held from 6pm to 9pm, tomorrow at the Sheraton Hotel's Awali Ballroom.

"The concert is a family event, we want it to be an event that parents come to." said Mr Crifo.

"Hip hop is a method of expression, its really similar to poetry and totally focused on rhythm," he told GDN.

The band is aiming to cross cultural boundaries and appeal to a wider audience.

"We want to inspire people here to make good music and to be honest, even if there's a language barrier here, rhythm gives a common thread," said band MC Terence Nicholson (Sub-Z).

But the band is also here to spread a serious message, along with its music.

"If you have a chance to study abroad, you should do it," said Sub-Z.

"Being with people from a different culture will make you a more rounded person."

The band believe that travel is the key to developing your personality and have enjoyed travelling to Bahrain.

"Being in Bahrain there has been a warmth and hospitality and it feels like I've been here a few days, although I only flew in last night," said Sub-Z.

The band see themselves as individual artists, not akin to the mainstream portrayal of hip hop.

They haven't given in to the idea of a big record deal and lucrative advertising contracts, which is the goal of many other more mediocre artists.

They say they are committed to making good music, with a fusion of different genres and sources.

"The band's inspiration comes from a number of things, depending on what we're doing," said vocalist Kokayi.

"I feel fortunate that we released ourselves from a strict genre and that we can explore different musical directions."

The band wants to highlight the positive side of US culture, and is using hip hop as a way of conveying this message.

"Hip hop is a positive form of music. Hip hop is global music," said Kokayi.

"Hip hop was never just music. It was always a culture of making something out of nothing.

"We had a great mentor who told us to stick to our path.

"Some of us had offers from big labels, but we chose not to take them.

"You need to be able to see the difference between the music and the business side, hip hop can be all about marketing."

The band understand the importance of education.

"We've done lectures and workshops at American colleges, such as Stamford.

We lecture and we also do other stuff," said Kokayi.

They believe that by providing an atmosphere of exchange they can correctly elevate the culture of hip hop and provide a positive impact on fans.

Also performing on Wednesday are Kuwaiti hip hop band Army of One and Bahrain hip hop artists from Outlaw Productions, Bahrain DJ Salim will also be performing prior to the bands performance.

T-shirts and pamphlets on study opportunities in the US will also be given away at the event, as part of the Study in the US programme.
- Gulf Daily News


Discography

Tale of Three Cities-(w/Steve Coleman) 1994
Live Hot Brass- Paris(w/Steve Coleman) 1995
Art of War ( BMG/France) 1997
Raw Life ( Label-Bleu) 2000
Sentir (w/Omar Sosa) 2001

Photos

Bio

For us all, the hip-hop group Opus Akoben stands up with their weapon — the weapon against clichés which often times are set up by those which are withdrawn from the real world. A weapon forged within a wide musical culture with a strong identity. Washington D.C., the federal capital of the United States, is the place where the band’s three vocalists, Carl Walker (aka Kokayi), Terence Nicholson (aka Sub-Z) and Joshua Culbreath (aka Black Indian) started out. They met through their involvement in the Freestyle Union which was founded in 1994 by Toni Blackman and Monty Taft. This creative arena was designed as an ongoing workshop dedicated to the “elevation of the rhyme” in which any kind of physical or verbal aggression was banned. Besides this precious and inviolable rule, the focus was placed on inventiveness, freedom, efficiency and emulation. Kokayi and Sub-Z thus found themselves within the circle of the initiates (the cipher). The participants gave each other encouragement and a safe haven for creativity, a concept the Union’s founders liked to impose on the daily lives of these budding artists. Each freestyler bounced on his predecessor’s words and the three vocalists of Opus Akoben were among the first to be widely recognized.

Their rhymes, speeches and improvisations cracked! And when the saxophonist Steve Coleman looked for rappers for his Metrics project, his attention was drawn to these two phenomena. After a successful European tour in 1994, they continued to make their first live recording at the Hot Brass with Steve in March 1995. For this Hot Brass recording and to complete this vocal duo, the saxophonist hired the young Black Indian — at that time, a 16-year old rough diamond. The result measured up to the challenge, since this meeting between rap and jazz to this date remains one of the most convincing ones. Following this exceptional adventure, Opus Akoben forged ahead as leaders to produce their first record “Art of War” for BMG France. A promising achievement in which some jewels may be heard (such as “Don’t Run”, “Art of War”, “God/Devil” and “Cross Fade”).

From here, it is time to move on to something else — to discover other sound textures, to make the fruit of their work richer, denser, more refined and more personal. In 2000, Black Indian releases his album “Get’Em Psyched” which was released by MCA and included the legendary Biz Markie. Sub-Z recites his texts soaked with esoteric verse with the Cuban pianist Omar Sosa (Sentir/Otà Records, 2002) while Kokayi joins the band of the pianist Andy Milne (New Age of Aquarius/Contrology Records, 1999) and produces the New York singer, Vinia Mojica. These projects, apparently part of the iceberg, hide the profound work achieved by these adventurers. Unceasingly listening to new sounds, these street magicians pace up and down studios, concert halls and schools to keep in touch with the real world, the one they come from, the one they talk about. They don’t want to fall into this “ego trip” defended by a large part of the hip-hop show business! In order to keep “elevating the rhyme” and the debate, they have to stick to reality. This is the price for their texts and claims to remain as sharp and reflect stubborn realities.

These three accomplished artists thus showed up to the Label Bleu studios in Amiens in December 2001 to record their new album. Why a jazz label? “Because this gives us more freedom and we already know Pierre (Walfisz)!” explains Kokayi. This puts an end to the discussion regarding the artistic cohesion between the label selection and the music produced by Opus Akoben. According to Sub-Z, “our ultimate aim is to function with the innovative spirit which is supposed to be conveyed in hip-hop.” Is innovation not a theme recurrently claimed by jazzmen and other “homing heads” of the artistic microcosm? It was therefore quite natural for the Paris-based flutist Magic Malik to join the band for one of the strongest themes of the record “Place to Place,” and for the other members of the band to build the strongest and most stimulating background for these three leaders. For years, all these “sidemen” have been writing Opus Akoben’s history. This largely explains the sound unity and cohesion between the fourteen songs and the only instrumental title, “Metro:Paris.” The guitarist Stanley Cooper, the bassist Ezra Greer, the drummer Jay Nichols and the Turntablist John Ashford (aka AyCE International) also come from Washington, DC. Links between the differently evoked universes are numerous; they only need to be discovered. It is a photograph of the results of the crucial research by these hip-hop scientists. Considering the speed at which they move forward, we’d better not miss this step!