Born in South Africa to American journalists, Kate Kraft spent five years at ALA – from 2010 to 2015 – in the African Studies and Entrepreneurial Leadership Departments. She was also the Director of ALA’s Music Program. This was how she engineered an ALA first: the creation of ALA Music Vol.1, a powerful collection of 11 original, truly African tracks professionally produced by students and staff at ALA.
Kate shares the process, and the inspiration behind making one of the continent’s most compelling collaborations.
“ALA has such an incredibly diverse and musical student body. We realized that we had access to musical talent from every corner of Africa; we wanted to showcase that talent, and see what music could be made bringing together these diverse styles and musical histories.
“The vision was to demonstrate the possibility of pan-African unity through music. One example of that is the African folk song medley: despite their different styles and beats, the students were able to blend them together into one beautiful, nostalgic piece, that hopefully puts a smile on the face of Africans around the continent, remembering their childhood songs.
‘We realized that we had access to musical talent from every corner of Africa; we wanted to showcase that talent, and see what music could be made bringing together these diverse styles and musical histories.’
“We were uniquely placed that year with an incredible group of ALA students as musicians: Ny Ony Razafindratandra from Madagascar had an incredible voice from a young age, and would go on to study music at the Berklee School of Music and performs as Niu Raza; Sheila Chukwulozie, who features as a soloist in several of the songs, was the Student Conductor of ALApella (ALA’s student choir), Thabang Maphothoane was an extremely talented guitarist, John Keto was so strong on the keyboard, and so many others.
“What is most impressive about the album is that every song is an original piece, meaning it was written and performed by ALA students. And while the folk medley takes folk songs from around the continent, it’s arrangement is uniquely ALA.
“Umazi Mvurya was the Student Leader of the ALA Band; together we partnered with a South African producer who helped us build the music studio on campus, which is where we produced and recorded all those songs.
“We had a professional sound engineer named Vinnie who contributed a ton to the creative process.
“And while the album features 23 credited performers, a further 20 collaborated on Music Unites Africa and many more were involved, from those who helped build and paint the studio to those who supported their friends through long afternoons and nights in it.
Tracking the Origins: the birth of a song
“Music Unites Africa, the first track, demonstrates its eponymous message through language. With over 40 languages spoken at ALA that year, we hoped that our music would speak to as many people as possible across the African continent, where almost 2,000 languages are spoken. It was fun to find all of the different languages spoken, from Malagasy to Fulani, French to Idgin; it is an impressive demonstration of ALA, and Africa’s linguistic diversity, and hopefully the message of hope and possibility of collaboration comes through clearly.
“African Folk Song Medley started as an idea to mash together as many African folk songs as possible. We spent an afternoon at ALApella practice with students sharing folk songs that they grew up with, and trying to mash them up.
“After hearing beautiful folk songs from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco, Zimbabwe, and many others all over the continent, co-writing the medley with 30 people became a bit too complicated, so a core group of second year students (mostly Section Leaders) polished it up and then took it to the studio to record. The result is a simple, but beautiful piece that passes from solo, to duet, to trio, back to duet, trio, etc.”
Former ALA student Sheila Chukwulozie, who wrote Timebomb, describes her creative process at the time:
I actually remember frantically carrying around the melody of the hook in my head very carefully; I didn’t want to talk to anyone before I got to the studio because I was scared I’d forget.’ – Sheila Chukwulozie
“ALA was the beginning of the end of my polite education. It put me in a seat of self-discovery that would often swing me, without much warning, into an intellectual battle with almost everything that once seemed sacred and certain to the core of my Self. Very much in a place of discomfort, the awakening discovery that I had spent my life answering only to names I was given, mostly by powers that didn’t care for my thriving, enraged me. Although I cannot remember exactly what I was angry about, I do remember that Timebomb was a song written in an intense dissatisfaction that bordered on rage. And, I was able to find a wonderfully subtle expression of that rage in Binyavanga Wainana’s essay How to Write About Africa.
In the essay, he illustrates how the pictures framed about us were consistently produced and reproduced as a subtle propaganda that served to justify names that these archaic and intensely flawed structures had given to us.
“I actually remember frantically carrying around the melody of the hook in my head very carefully: I didn’t want to talk to anyone before I got to the studio because I was scared I’d forget. Once I wrote the skeleton of the verses and the hook, Olaotan and I worked together on the harmony of what was to become Timebomb. Now that I listen back, I want to laugh at myself for sounding so “juvenile” , almost too sentimental, but I think any expression of emotion will always seem hyperbolic as we grow up. And though it may be, I’d like to argue that we all deserve a moment to grapple with the sincerely sorrowful surprise of breaking into the complex mess of a world we once thought would run on ice cream and good intentions.”
Sanmi Oyenuga, one of the rappers on Oda Ole reveals its origin.
“It was a Saturday and Tife decided to record an Azonto dance video in L3 (if I recall correctly). This was right when Azonto was peak viral. It was myself, Tife and Musila. We had one of those flip cameras that ALA gave out and we were playing few Azonto style songs on the loudspeaker in a classroom.
“Vinnie, our producer, came out and heard the tune. He came into the room and asked what we were up to. He really loved the sound and asked us to send him as many Azonto songs as we could find. We ended up sending him around 4 songs (including Wizkid and Fuse ODG’s versions of the song). Vinnie told us to come back in like half an hour, and when we got back he had the entire beat complete. Niu, Sheila and Sophie were working on some other tracks that evening and just started to vibe to the beat. The tune Oda Ole kind of just came organically from Niu playing around with the beat. We told her it actually meant something in Yoruba: “It’s good, it’s hard/solid”. I used to write rap a little bit back then so I pulled up an old verse I never really recorded and just went at it. Musila came up with a solid verse, and Tife pretty much freestyled an intro. Sheila Niu and Sophie recorded the chorus.
“The entire song from coincidental inception to recording was done in about 3 hours…”
DID YOU KNOW?
Oda Ole was mixed and mastered by 7-time Grammy Award winner Gordon Williams.
Stream the album via SoundCloud and click on the song title for more background and artist info on each song.
WATCH Catch a glimpse of the making of this unique album by clicking on the link below to see Vinnie, Umazi, and Francis Ekii at work on a track for the album: