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  • Nick Drew

Yaruba Sonnets

The Yaruba Sonnets is a piece of work that Grammy award winning Nigerian percussionist Lekan Babalola performed for the exhibition Slanguges that I designed and installed at Oxford University in 2019.

The Yoruba Sonnets featured the spoken word poetry and mime from Dr Olu Taiwo with live music from Lekan Babalola's Sacred Funk Quartet. The result was a unique performance of ancient Nigerian verse incorporating Afro-beat music and the contemporary sound of Western Funk.

Lekan was born in Lagos, Nigeria where he learnt to beat the conga under the strict guidance of his father. In 1980, he left Nigeria for the United Kingdom after he won a Lagos State Scholarship to study engineering, but dropped the programme for music and later enrolled at the Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design where he studied filmmaking and then the Northern Film School where he completed his master's degree. He left for the USA and joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers band before returning to the U.K. Lekan later went on to work with notable acts including Prince, Ernest Ranglin, Branford Marsalis, African Jazz All Stars, Roy Ayers, David Byrne, Damon Albarn and Tony Allen amongst others.

Lekan was awarded two Grammys in 2009 and 2006 respectively, for his work on Cassandra Wilson's Loverly and the joint album In the Heart of the Moon by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. He has released eight albums, his latest is Mr Lakaaye.

I have since worked with Lekan on a Pyramid structure that can be incorporated into his performances as a chill out space, introduction to Sacred Yoruba and his musical work. The pyramid measures 3 metres square and is made from collapsible steel frame with a printed vinyl covering and floor. The whole thing can be dismantled to fit into a couple of heavy duty carrying bags and thrown into a touring bus.

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