Adebiyi Adepegba Discusses The London African Music Festival He Co-Founded

Joyful Noise is a musical performance production company established in 1990 by Adebiyi Adepegba and Barbara Pukwana. By 1991, the duo were awarded an annual grant by the Arts Council England to produce concerts and tours for African musicians. 

Mr. Adepegba has also produced events and tours for the Arts Council England’s Contemporary Music Network, the London Mayor Office, South African High Commission in London among many others. Between 1991 and 1994, he produced African Moves and during 1994 and 2004, he produced some outstanding concerts for the London Jazz Festival. In 2001, Adepegba and his team established the London African Music Festival and have annually showcased in London venues, the finest talent vocal and instrumental talent from the motherland.

The 13th official London African Music Festival will run for 10 days from September 18th to 27th and will feature living legend Ebo Taylor; Lucky Ranku, Mose Fan Fan, Paul Lunga and Ed Bentley. This week, TBB had the privilege of interviewing the visionary behind it all…

Mr. Adepegba, it’s an honour to welcome you for the first time to The British Blacklist.

Adebiyi Adepegba
Adebiyi Adepegba

Thank you very much.

Let’s start with your production company Joyful Noise which has now reached the 25-year milestone. What inspired or instigated you to begin such an historic journey?

I started as a student organising small events. I had a strong interest and passion for music but I wasn’t particularly good at music. I realised I was rather, very good when it came to organisation and administration. My student friends were important at that time as they encouraged me to pursue this aspect of music performance. This effectively meant I was turning the disappointment of not being a naturally gifted musician into the positive of forging a pathway in music administration.

What did your role involve in the earliest years of the company’s existence?

Well back then I did everything. I was a real busy body. From making phone calls, to collecting equipment and even setting up the stage and other stage management responsibilities. This was before I had a wonderful team around me to share the workload.

Could you tell us a bit about your working partnership with co-founder Barbara Pukwana?

This is a relationship that stretches 25 years. Barbara has been very influential to the smooth running, progress and growth of the organisation. She is our financial guru and usually has the final say on what we can do financially. Any organisation needs financial stability and someone you can trust with the money. Barbara has always been that person for us. She is truly valued as one of the key members of our team.

In 2001 you founded the London African Music Festival. How do you define this hugely popular annual music event?

This project was launched with the intention of bringing audiences an experience they would not ordinarily gain from playing popular African records in their homes. We wanted the festival to allow fans of the music to “see, hear and feel Africa”.

What do you attribute to LAMF maintaining its popularity and standing the test of time since its formation?

Variation has been our major strength. We are proud of the fact that every year is different and unique. Whilst the artists and bands we invite can often differ in terms of the size of the line-up; you can witness a full 10-piece African band playing amazing original material at the London African Music Festival. The promise alone of such an experience keeps the crowds coming and the festival fresh and interesting.

As much as the festival is a showcase of indigenous African music, do visitors to the festival reflect the diversity of London?

As you would probably expect; music fans with an African origin or from around the diaspora are very visible each year. This is great because although there are many other huge commercial music festivals that command attention, it’s always positive to see black people come, enjoy and feel the experience of a uniquely African music festival. This being said, the appeal of the music is truly global and we have certainly witnessed an increase in the diversity of our audiences. An example is a select group of Japanese (Tokyo fan club) visitors who fly out to London and spend money on a celebration of African music. We cater for them and ensure they have a pleasurable stay as we believe this highlights the international success of our festival.

What is the most common challenge when organising such a high-profile festival each year?

Finance. Money is always integral to our operations and a good way to look at it is the difference between having £1 or £100. If we have £100, we can put on a show that looks worth £100. If we only have £1 then we have to figure out a way of putting on a show that looks like it cost £100. Saying this, I’m very happy with the team I have around me. People like Sophia Jackson do a great job in terms of sponsorship and generating interest. The people I work with are genuine people who believe in what we’re doing. This makes it easier for us to succeed.

How much do you feel Black music has prospered in the UK music industry?

For many years, the music has been great but other important aspects such as investment in talent and finance have often been a stumbling block. I believe black music in this country has also been somewhat disadvantaged by the lack of a strong historical lynchpin. By this I mean reference points that allow for a new generation to come through. If we take American Soul/R&B music as an example, they’ve had pioneers such as Betty Smith, Aretha (Franklin) and Chaka Khan who paved the way for modern superstars like Beyoncé. In the UK, such a strong thread never really materialised even though Joan Armatrading and Soul II Soul still represent two powerful pioneers. I feel the achievements of individuals such as Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah are still quite recent but will, after a longer passage of time, be envisaged as part of a wider historical lynchpin.

Your work involves communicating with some truly iconic superstars of African music. Which artists have you met/liaised with that are personal favourites of yours?

There are three that stand out. Osibisa were the fresh and funky group that captured my imagination as a young man in the 1970s. It was an inspirational moment to see them perform live on Top of The Pops at a time when most images of black people on the screen were characteristically informed by negative stereotypes. I have also been privileged to meet Queen Salawa Abeni. She is a talented woman who is massive in Nigeria having created her own musical style. For us to get her to perform at our festival on more than one occasion is a huge achievement. Finally; the living legend, Ebo Taylor. This man is turning 80 years old and will be performing on the 20th. My Dad absolutely loves him and it is a real honour for me to have him with us in London this year.

What can first-time audiences expect at the London African Music Festival 2015?

A fantastic show; I encourage all fans of good music to turn up. There will be major stars performing across the ten days and each year there are always a few surprises I’m not even aware of! What do you envisage for your company Joyful Noise in the next few years? We just want to keep going. We want to keep getting bigger and better. What are you doing once this interview is over? I’m heading out to run a few errands.

For further information about the London African Music Festival see their following platforms:

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