Femi Temowo is an artist whose contribution to the resurgence of Jazz has been celebrated globally.

The most recent credit to his name is composing the Yomi Sade written, one-man tour de force and breathe… starring David Jonsson (The Industry)

Temowo sat down with TBB Talks to share his thoughts on the current state of Jazz; the thought process that goes into combining his Nigerian heritage with his music and the importance of Black stories in theatre.

Please introduce yourself?

My name is Femi Temowo, I am a composer a record producer, and an artist living in London
 
 
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.

Grateful
 
How did it feel to be back performing live again after the forced break brought on by the pandemic? And did you gain anything from that time away from the stage?

It was interesting setting foot on the stage the first night. I never get nervous performing but the first night of and breathe… my hands shook for the first 2 minutes of the performance. That was new for me. The time away from the stage has taught me about doing more with less. I am now striving to be more minimalist in my work.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

What attracted you to composing for and breathe…?

I was interested in the notion of male grief and how we are taught to express or not express our emotions

and breathe… explores universal themes such as grief and family, but it also makes no secret about being unapologetically Black and African; not long ago this would have been unheard of for a play in London. How important do you feel like it is to have not just Black talent, but Black stories, in this space?

I feel it is crucial because as we all know by now, representation is one of the key factors in raising a more rounded future generation.

One of the biggest takeaways from and breathe… is the marriage between your music, David Jonsson’s electrifying performance, and Yomi Sode’s poetry. How did you all work together and challenge each other to produce the emotionally enriching experience we saw on stage?

We shared a lot with each other about our own experiences with the subjects matter(s) that Yomi was dealing with in his writing. We also had some time to bond over our shared cultures which really did help to light the way.

Given that you arrived in London from Nigeria at the age of 9, your music still has strong Yoruba influences coursing through it (and it’s beautiful to hear!). Did you make a conscious effort to incorporate your heritage into your art; or is it something that happens on a more subconscious level?

Actually, I’d say it’s a little bit of both. I was fortunate enough to have learned to play music around some very good Nigerian musicians and came up playing that music initially. Along the way, I did have to make a decision to always keep a sense of it in a lot of what I do.

There are those who believe that Jazz is making a comeback and then there are those who believe that Jazz never left, do you fall on either side of the fence?

I’m definitely in the Jazz Never Left camp!

Throughout your career, you’ve collaborated with many legendary musicians, which process was the most interesting you observed, and did it affect how you approached your own projects?

The most impactful artists I have collaborated with over the years have taught me something fundamental not so much about music but about identity. How important it is to be able to announce yourself through your work. It’s something I always try to bring with me to everything I do.

In your Ted Talk many years ago, you said that ‘the art that comes out of Africa is unmatched in its particular style but we don’t appreciate or support it enough’, do you think this has changed as of late?

Honestly? I think we have made some progress in this regard but nowhere near enough. Currently, a lot of music coming out of the continent is still hyped more on its ability to make money. I look forward to the days when we will celebrate the more nuanced creative artists currently working under the radar on the continent.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…

  • A book you have to have in your collection? Things fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Too many options to name just one.
  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? I’m not really a repeat watcher, to be honest. But one show that has had me gripped ecently was a show called Dark. A German TV production. So good. 
  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, musical, dance, or concert)? I actually don’t remember. Sorry!
  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad about our current government. Mad about our current government. Glad about Getting to live-stream and breathe… so many more people could take part.

and breathe … ran at the Almedia Theatre until July 10th 2021.