- 13 Dec 21
"I wouldn't be doing this if not for the support we got from the Irish people and from our migrant crowds. It's the reason why we do it," Segun Akano tells Hot Press ahead of tonight's second Afrobeats Series gig.
In 2002, Segun Akano arrived in Dun Laoghaire's Direct Provision centre from Lagos, Nigeria. Since then, he has advertised himself as an Afrobeat drummer and formed the Yankari Afrobeat Collective alongside his brother Michael Akano and friend Gabriel Akujobi. Having been residing in Ireland for nearly two decades, Segun now holds Irish citizenship and has raised three children in Dublin ("they are 90% Irish, 10% Nigerian," he laughs).
"I've been knocking about playing shows in Ireland for years now," Segun tells me over the phone. "Initially, I started playing African churches, events and weddings. Then I went to Music Maker because I really wanted to join a band. I left my notice on the wall of the basement saying that I was looking for band,ates, and that I could work as an Afrobeat drummer. I only got one call after six months, but that was the beginning of my foray into the nightlife scene of Dublin."
Combining rhythms, melodies and lyrics from Yoruba and Igbo tribes, Yankari blend fuji, highlife and funk to create a 21st century groove, while introducing contemporary Western soundscapes for a broader appeal. Segun, Michael and Gabriel call on a pool of like minded Dublin-based musicians from all over the world to bring the music alive at gigs and festivals. The charismatic collective aspires to advance the original Afrobeat genre by incorporating electro-jazz/funk, rhythmic-dance and African rock-and-roll sounds whilst keeping the traditional groove elements of Afrobeat music at core of the music.
Since Yankari's origins, the 10-piece band has headlined Bluefire Festival; supported the likes of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble at the Sugar Club; performed at the Dublin Africa Day Festival, The Global Grooves Festival in Drogheda and many more accomplishments.
How does Segun view Ireland's music scene, especially in terms of multiculturalism?
"As an African artist, there is definitely room to explore that kind of music in Dublin. I don't really know of many other African bands that can play the nightlife scene in the same way we did. We were just about establishing something for ourselves when the pandemic happened, unfortunately."
"Right now, I think if we get through Covid, we'll be on an upward trajectory," the drummer adds. "Once Covid came into play, so many gigs stopped. We're a real festival band, and they were all gone in an instant. We're also a big band with a lot of members, so that became a problem, as you can imagine. We couldn't bring anyone in to rehearse, so we did a few Zoom meetings. The arts are looking better right now. As soon as things pick up, boom - restrictions are back and everything shuts down again."
Segun and his brother Michael cut their teeth playing in Lagos churches as children, fighting over who got to play the drums before either even had a kit. The pair used branches from a nearby tree to play rhythms from around the neighbourhood. 20 years later, the Akano Rhythm Brothers had made a name for themselves in London by playing parties, gigs and events. Together, they share over 15 years of stage performance experience. In their time, they've also teamed up with Arambe Theatre Production, The Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble, Rhythm Africana, Oleku, Simi Crowns, Akeeb Kareem and other initiatives. No wonder Improvised Music Company, Choice Cuts and Dublin City Council tapped them for the Afrobeat Series, then.
"Oh yes, Irish people love the music! I can't even explain it, they just adore it," Segun emphasises, passionately. "The music is the major selling point for us, and it's interesting to see because it's not just Irish people. All migrants seem to identify with us, which brings people together. We dance and sing and laugh together: it's pure euphoria. To put it simply, the response has been incredible. I wouldn't be doing this if not for the support we got from the Irish crowd and from the migrants. It's the reason why we do it."
Has Akano seen much of his homeland since arriving in Dublin 19 years ago?
"I went back to Lagos for the first time about five years ago, after 14 years here. It was brief, only two weeks. An aunty had passed away, so I had to be there. I got to see my mum for the first time as well. It was a very nostalgic experience. I was planning on going back this year, but it didn't happen."
"I have Irish citizenship now, and three kids who are Irish. A nine-year-old, five-year-old and a four-year-old. They keep me busy, they keep me on my toes," Segun laughs. "They love music as well. I'd say they're Irish through and through with some elements of Nigeria in them. They won't be at the show tonight, it's bed-time! If it was a day-time show or a family show, I bring them along. The Akano Brothers teach kids drums, too."
Yankari Afrobeat Collective mark the second act to play the Afrobeat Series, following Niwel Tsumbo's show last Monday (December 6th).
"I saw video footage from Niwel's Afrobeat Series show at the Sugar Club last week and it looked fantastic. I've known him for a long time, since he came to Cork. We've played a few festivals together. I'm so proud of him. What a way to begin the series, you know? It looked awesome," Segun smiles. "I think Improvised Music Company are doing a brilliant job at creating cultural integration in Dublin. The first time we worked with them was for the Hotter Than July festival. They should keep it up, I'm rooting for them. The organisation is top class. I'm happy to be sharing this moment with my friends and everybody involved in the collaboration."
Lastly, what can audiences expect from tonight's show?
"Tonight, you can expect a lot of groove! We have a lot of dancing, movement, horns. We love the excitement that happy sounds bring to audiences. We also touch upon a lot of topics that are close to our hearts, like migration. Come down and enjoy a great night. We're going to be supported by Selu and the Living Things as well, who I work with. It's more of an Afro/neo-soul vibe. I'm looking forward to it as well, I can't wait."
Catch the Yankari Afrobeat Collective at the Sugar Club tonight from 7:30pm until 11pm as part of the Afrobeat Series - presented by Improvised Music Ireland, Choice Cuts and Dublin City Council. Book your tickets here or pay €10 entrance fee at the door.
Read the Hot Press interview with Niwel Tsumbo here.