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Interview with London Afrobeat Collective guitarist/founder Alex Farrell

London Afrobeat Collective

By Joe Brookes –

As you may have read in the last issue of Roar, we will be attending Bestival this year. The recent addition of Fatboy Slim as Friday night headliner marks the ever growing line-up, and expanding festival site, making this year’s tenth anniversary set to be a spectacle worthy of attendance. But aside from the headliners, including Elton John and Snoop Dogg, it is the wealth of smaller acts bursting with musical creativity that are playing which makes Bestival stand out from the crowd. One of the acts who are sure to simultaneously make you move while leaving you breathless is the London Afrobeat Collective, and recently I caught up with their founder Alex Farrell to talk about their music and how they are feeling on the approach to this massive performance:


Hi Alex, your members are from all over the world, what different musical backgrounds are you from?

Having ten band members from different parts of the world means that we have each taken a different musical journey to get to where we are now. We have people in the band who were brought up listening to Fela and Afrobeat, but we also have people who grew up listening to Funk & Disco, Jazz, House/Techno, Reggae, Latin, Hip-Hop/Electro and even Heavy Metal.


And were you all interested in making afrobeat before the band came together, or did that come after you had formed into a group?

The band was formed to be an Afrobeat band, yes. We started out by playing Fela Kuti covers as well as covering artists like K. Frimpong, Mulatu Astatke and Cedric Im Brooks. That was a good basis to begin writing our own stuff.

As well as making us want to dance, I think our love of playing Afrobeat as a genre stems from the fact that it gives you the opportunity to incorporate many different styles. Fela Kuti’s original idea for the genre was a fusion of American James Brown style Funk mixed with Highlife and Traditional African rhythms, plus some Latin and Jazz themes, so we try to continue that by adding more modern influences.


So where did you all meet/get together? Was London key in this process?

Yes London was definitely key. It started with me putting an ad online and subsequent jamming sessions with different musicians from London. It snowballed from there and the more musicians we interacted with, the more the vast London network opened up to us. For us, one of the greatest things about London is its cultural diversity; we have members from New Zealand, Nigeria, France, Iran, Manchester and Cornwall but we’re all Londoners now. We may have Afrobeat in our name, but we don’t want to just copy Fela or Femi Kuti or Tony Allen – we play London Afrobeat.


As a live band, would you say you are more suited to playing festival stages or clubs? 

We suit both! Our stage show is all about energy and vibe, so with ten people on stage dancing and jumping it can get pretty hot and sweaty, so the fresh air of a festival stage can be quite welcome, but we’re happy with either.

One of our main objectives as a band is that we try to give 110% for every show we play, no matter whether it’s the main stage at a festival or a pub in Tulse Hill. So in terms of our performance, we try to make it the best it can be every time.


At Glastonbury you played with Bombay Bicycle Club, who are exclusively playing at Bestival this year, could another live collaboration be on the cards?

Yes, they’re a great band and a nice bunch of guys too. It was great fun to play with them at Glastonbury, Latitude and Reading in 2011 and we’re always up for collaboration projects. We have held talks about appearing with them at Bestival so I wouldn’t miss their performance if I was you!


I certainly won’t! Onto another band, your guitar sound isn’t too far away from that of Nile Rogers of Chic, who are also playing at Bestival, are you fans?

HAAA! That has to be the best interview question ever! We are massive Chic fans, of course! If me and Alex S (lead guitar) could be anyone we wanted to be, we would probably fight over who got to be Nile Rodgers. We take lots of influence from that disco sound that they were a massive part of so its great to see Nile Rodgers getting the recognition he deserves as an all time great. Just a shame Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson are no longer around to share that with him. Seeing Chic at Bestival is something we’re massively looking forward to. Gimme a C! Gimme an H!


What do you think of the other bands on the lineup? Any favourites?

Apart from Chic and Bombay, of course, there are a few names we’re pretty excited about. Got to see Snoop Dogg – for shizzle innit? I’m sure Wu Tang will bring da ruckus as well. We saw the Heritage Survival Band from Zimbabwe at a festival before and they were excellent too.


Bestival is one of those events which can pride itself on its wide ranging selection of dance artists. How do you think your style of music – essentially dance orientated – stands in relation to the plethora of electronic dance music available at the festival?

We’re fans of electronic dance music in general. I grew up listening to essential mixes by DJ’s like Richie Hawtin and Kerri Chandler. I think both kinds of dance music (electronic and not) have their own benefits, and I think that we’ve reached the time now where you don’t have to just like one or the other exclusively. We’ve just recorded a new album and we’re currently in the process of getting remixes made, so we love it when the styles cross over and we’re looking forward to hearing the results!

I think what makes us stand out is that our energy and excitement on stage transmits to the audience well, we get such a buzz from playing and I think people like to see artists enjoying what they do. We’re a large group too, so that is a spectacle in itself these days.


How do you think electronic dance music has influenced you over the past few years?

Our specific electronic influences are probably more like 15-20 years ago rather than recently. We love Kraftwerk, Model 500, Drexciya, Underground Resistance etc….mostly stuff from the 80’s and 90’s. More recently we have been influenced by Dubstep and Drum & Bass by people like Benga/Skream and Artificial Intelligence/Calibre.


To what extent do you think playing festivals have helped your career?

Massively. Playing at festivals is great for exposure and publicity. When you get onto the same stage as Kool & the Gang and Janelle Monae (Glastonbury 2011), people start to notice you more, that’s for sure. Plus its great for band-bonding and for finding out whether you can handle spending lots of time travelling with your band mates! You also get to be inspired by all the other artists you get to see.


 What do you think of the Bestival ethos? How do you think your music will fit in with its legendary site?

It’s refreshing to play an all encompassing festival that retains a boutique type feel but also has big acts playing. Its great for us to play alongside up and coming acts as well as global superstars. Also our Sax player Ed is pleased that they choose to publicise the large amount of vegetarian food available as it’s still oddly surprisingly difficult at many festivals to find a variety of this.


And finally, in a lot of your songs you talk about making the world a better place, and Bestival is involved with various charities, to what extent do you think music festivals – and furthermore music in general – can change the world in bringing people together and spreading a message?

Afrobeat has a proud tradition of having political lyrics, so we wanted to pay respect and try to continue that tradition in what we do. We will be releasing some new tracks this year in which we try to focus on issues relevant to the UK and London in particular. We’re also playing at The Big Noise Festival in Peckham on 8th June which raises money for the Big Issue Foundation.

Its brilliant that festivals help to raise money for charities, from the small ones like Fieldview Festival right through to mammoths like Glasto and Bestival.

Music definitely has the power to change the world when it’s used in the right way. Stevie Wonder managed to create a US national holiday with a song! The problem is that there aren’t many mainstream artists saying anything significant anymore. Record labels don’t want to take any risks being too controversial so most of what we hear on the radio is mediocre at best. Hopefully we can buck that trend! As Fela once said ‘music is the weapon of the future’.

Cheers Alex!

For more information on Bestival, visit



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