Watching Ade Bantu’s Agbero International Band at Rehearsals – Dami Ajayi

In the wake of the Afrohouse release of Ma Ko Ba Mi by Coflo and DJ Said on September 27th, Dami Ajayi remembers spending a day of rehearsals with Ade Bantu and his rambuctious Agberos.

The studio where Agbero International Band rehearses is easy to find with appropriate directions and Google Maps. A left turn off a major road in Ikeja and there you are. It looks a bit nondescript: an expansive parking lot provides a seat out for a social club that shares the building.

I meet Peter, the bassist with his huge headphones. He is sitting under a canopy. Dami, the dark-skinned vocalist, is eating, a few chairs away. Shortly after Femi Smart, the lead guitarist, and Akin, the talking drummer, drive in. Femi walks out of his car, excited to see the pianist, Jide, who had also just arrived. Jide’s wife gave birth to a baby boy days before.

“Japheth is a powerful name,” Akin quips and they all agree laughing, congratulating the pianist. Then Femi Smart and Akin go in search of breakfast.

Ade Bantu drives in next, wearing a long sleeves batik shirt, straight jeans, sneakers and a brown felt hat. Then in no particular order, the missing members filled out and soon the entire band isoutside the studio save Ope, the trumpeter, who called in sick.

Ade shares news about the plan to move the concert, Afropolitan Vibes, to the main stage at Freedom Park. The band members are circumspect. Weighing the pros and cons, the new space will accommodate a larger crowd but it will also diffuse the concert’s energy. It is also facing the wrong direction and might alienate the crowd from the communal participation which has become a hallmark of the show.

They soon shelve this discussion for small talk, breaking into smaller groups while a light drizzle thumps the canopy under which they are sheltering.

*

(L-R) Damilola Williams vocals, Ade Bantu, leader and vocalist; Ayomide Martins, lead vocals; Opeyemi Oyewande, trumpet; and Ireoluwa Allen, vocals; and from the 13 member band BANTU performing at MASA friday March 11th. photo William Farrington

The studio is a square-shaped hollow room on the ground floor, padded to the hilt with sound proofing. Stools and microphones are arranged with some acoustic significance: the entrance door is on the side of the vocalists and the horn section. Opposite them are the two guitarists. Two pianos and the drums—the drum set and conga drums—face each other on the adjoining sides. Every one settles into their seats except for the band leader–and this is because he does not have a seat. There is a conspicuous absence in the stool in front of the Conga drums.

“I want you guys to listen to Afropunk,” Ade Bantu says, plugging a jack into his Samsung phone. A song issues; it is a familiar song; the band had performed it several times at Afropolitan Vibes. The tune is uptempo, jazzy and energetic but they are all quiet as they listen with their eyes close, except Ade who is humming along to the song.

He plays it twice then asks for comments. They all agree that there is lag in the entry of the horns after the second verse and that the throaty agbero speak from Ibrahim needs pruning.

In ten minutes, they have conducted a thorough post mortem on their latest song before it goes into post-production.

*

They audit their last concert.

Ade complains about tuning instruments during the show.

He is firm but courteous. “It is not professional when the show is on and you are walking to the side of the stage to validate your sound”. 

Culprits point accusing fingers at each other but it all ends with laughter.

The next issue is the visibility of the brass section on stage. This goes swimmingly. Peter had told me earlier that today was the band’s rehearsal. Usually they rehearse thrice before every concert—an exclusive with the band and two with the performing acts. The next edition will feature Seyi Shay, Vector and Heavywind.

As always, they decide what songs to perform at the next edition of the concert. Ade Bantu wants ‘Fire on the Dance Floor’, an old number of his. The song comes on and every one listens carefully.

‘Fire on the Dance Floor’ is a mellow dancehall tune replete with South African rhythms. Ade Bantu gives the three vocalists —Mide, Damilola and Ire—handwritten lyrics and shares the call and response and the solos. Late arrival Wura Samba chats with the trombonist and alto saxophonist while Femi make faces in his chair. Femi seems to be enjoying himself the most. Peter is plucking his bass guitar with dexterous ease and working out the song’s chords. He had told me earlier that the bass is the root of every song and this was probably as apt as what Family man, Wailer’s bass guitarist, said: that the bass guitar is the back bone of any song. 

The song plays twice and the band is ready to make their cover.

Their first take is decent but they are not satisfied. They dissect the song again, making pragmatic alterations about the song’s opening, refrain and stanzas. They take it again and it sounds a lot better, yet they are still not satisfied. The third time, Mide misses his lines and they burst out laughing.

Someone says, “The problem with Mide is that he has joined the Police Force”.

The reason for this quip seats on Mide’s head; he is wearing a cap with POLICE boldly embossed on it.

They go at it again.

Bantu, satisfied, says “We are ready to perform our new number at our church, Mountain of Fire and Ministry”

There is laughter again.

A debate ensues about performing ‘Lagos Jump’ at the next show.

“We have performed it seventeen times” Femi shows counting the times off on his fingers.

Mide wants Lagos Jump; he thinks it is the climax of the show.

Ade Bantu says, “We need to try something different.”

They decide on Lagos Barbie, an uptempo atypical Highlife song, which they had performed at previous events.

Ade goes, “This mic sounds like I am in the toilet”.

They laugh again.

Mide takes the chorus of Lagos Barbie but Ade stops him midway.

“No. People won’t follow the song if they don’t hear what you are saying. Can you do it a bit more calypso-y. Pronounce all the Ws.”

They go at it again and it sounds better. The snide remarks in the lyrics suddenly come to fore.

After the first take, they decide that they would let the percussionists—snare drummer and talking drummer—take a double solo at the outroll.

The second take is resounding and satisfying, satisfying enough for the band members to pick out soft drinks from a waiting crate.

After rehearsals, they file out for a photo session. They are casually dressed, perhaps too casually dressed. Ade Bantu had complained about their casual wears on the way out of the studio but they pay him no heed.

The Kodak moment—photographer standing on a red chair, armed with his camera—features the horn blowers carrying their wind instruments, the guitarists with their guitars slung across their mid-riffs and Wura Samba on the verge of beating the shit out of one of his conga drums.

Ade wears the easy smile of a veteran. Towering Mide manages to look like a Lothario and Law Enforcement officer all at once, his POLICE baseball cap hinting at the latter.

The two female vocalists spot demure smiles.

Those smiles will be famous some day.

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