Photos courtesy of Kingsmen.
Kingsmen Want to Be The World's Afrobeats Band
We sat down with the band ahead of their debut at NYC’s notorious SOB’s music venue.
Trust New York City to have the power to bring together all the Kingsmen. While the collective has been around for seven years, its latest iteration is a relaunch of sorts, assembled three years ago, post-pandemic.
The quartet is made up of founder, musical director, and keyboardist Lekan Ajala, drummer Stephan Grey, bassist Nicholas Braham, and guitarist Christopher Gonzalez, who met organically within New York City’s diverse ecosystem of musicians. Most of the crew is fairly familiar with Afrobeats, whether culturally or environmentally, while American-born Chris was willingly “adopted” into the fold.
“When we first got together three years ago, I noticed that African music was fast growing in popularity in the US. At first, I just thought it was cool to have new music to join in on. But, over the years it’s become a lot deeper. Experiencing a new culture and new sounds that are familiar in ways I can’t describe,” says Gonzalez.
The band is currently touring North America with Nigeria’s Sabi Girl Ayra Starr, and are headlining their own debut show at New York City’s legendary live music venue SOB’s this Thursday, August 31.
The Kingsmen’s journey began with Nigerian heavyweight Mr Eazi. “It was a full circle moment,” says Lekan, who established the group. “We met in 2016 and performed with him at Prospect Park’s Celebrate Brooklyn [concerts].” As African artists strengthened their State-side following over the years, Kingsmen carved a spot for themselves as North America's go-to Afrobeats band. “[Then] We went straight into working with Tems, Omah Lay, and Olamide. And the rest is history.” The group most recently performed with Ghanaian stars Black Sherif and Stonebwoy.
Nigerian musical director Lekan played a leading role in gathering the forces that would eventually manifest as Kingsmen, ensuring that while members themselves didn’t have to originate from the continent, they needed to move like they did.
“At the end of the day, music is a feeling”, remarks band manager Dayo, “At least that’s the way I see it. Lekan identified these guys as part of the Kingsmen based on his interactions with them, how he played with them, their vibe, and the way that everyone got along. It was a very selective process. Some of the team may not be African, but the music and feeling is mutual.” Naturally, the group’s ability to connect sonically bodes well for creating a cohesive sound that reflects the diaspora that gave birth to it. Their chemistry and mutual respect make the task that much easier.
“Rehearsals play a big part,” says Lekan. “We all come prepared and have the music ahead of time. The actual rehearsal time is for us to talk things through. As the music director, I come up with ideas, but the guys do, too. We come together and make sure everyone’s on the same page and energy wavelength.
Most importantly though, he mentions, “Whatever we do, and whatever the creative process is, I always want to make sure that we’re keeping the artist’s original sound. As an African, you want to make sure that the sound is preserved and not watered down. Even though we’re making our own arrangements and being creative with the music, we make sure that the artist’s sound is still present within whatever we’re creating. It’s a very fun process, everyone is super talented” shares Lekan.
This week, the band takes a stab at being the main act as they debut as Kingsmen & Friends. The quartet will headline the show, while also being joined by a host of artists including Nigerian singers Ayo Jay and Moelogo, Nigerien songstress Fadí, and more. An artist's debut performance could, arguably, be incredibly daunting, however, the gents are ready to stand up and out as themselves.
“I’m hyped”, says Stephan. “A lot of drummers like to be in the forefront – I don’t. But, I’m going to take this opportunity and enjoy it, just being a creative and an artist.” The rest of the group echos their bandmates' excitement, “It’s a new way to be. We’re usually the supporting artists, but now we’re the ones providing all of the entertainment. It’s a new way to experience the music,” says Nicholas.
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