Still Black Still Proud
An African Tribute to James Brown
@ the Barbican Centre
14 June 2008
Featured artists include: Pee Wee Ellis,
Fred Wesley, Cheikh Lô
Tony Allen, Simphiwe Dana, Vieux Farka, Ty, Fred Ross
Wunmi, James Morton, Tony Remy, Vicky Edimo
Mamadou Sarr, Peter Madsen, Guido May
Click an image to enlarge.
Pee Wee Ellis biography
Pee Wee Ellis was born to play music. In Texas Pee Wee got to see
blues greats like Bobby "Blue" Bland and Fats Domino.
With clarinet and sax lessons in school, he was skilled on reeds
as well as piano when his family moved to Rochester, New York at
In Rochester he met Sonny Rollins, who agreed to give him lessons.
Ellis joined James Brown in 1965 and soon came up with the first
pure hardcore Funk hit, Cold Sweat, followed by 26 others that defined
what we think of as Funk to this day. Ellis has been called The
Man Who Invented Funk.
Ellis’ effect on music was huge, leading directly to George
Clinton, Sly Stone and, in a circular twist, Miles Davis’
By 1970 Ellis worked as arranger and musical director for CTI-Kudu
records, the most popular jazz label of the 70s. He worked with
Esther Phillips as well as George Benson, Hank Crawford and dozens
of other CTI artists.
In 1979 Van Morrison asked Ellis to do arrangements for his Into
The Music album, an association that lasted for six years and five
albums then was repeated for another five years and five more albums
in the last half of the 90’s.
In between, a reunited JB Horns – Ellis, Fred Wesley and Maceo
Parker - made several albums and toured extensively.
Meanwhile, Ellis had found world music, or it had found him. He
contributed arrangements for Malian singer Oumou Sangare’s
album Worotan also for Senegalese singer Cheikh Lô. That led
to arranging and playing for two Cuban legends: Cachaito and Miguel
ŒAnga’ Diaz. He continues to arrange for World Circuit
Records, including work on Ali Farka Toure's last album, Savane.
Also on Cheikh Lô’s latest and funkiest CD “Lampfall”.
The Pee Wee Ellis Assembly regularly tours and he has worked with
UK jazz singing sensation Clare Teal. In 2005 he visited Japan with
the Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and in 2006 they played together again,
in South Africa and at Yoshi¹s in Oakland.
Most recently he has performed with and arranged for the Miami-based
Fred Wesley biography
Fred Wesley was born on 4 July 1943 and grew up in Mobile Alabama.
His musical career started at the age of three on the piano because
his grandmother, with whom he spent a great many of his formative
years, was a piano teacher. She had him playing scales and pieces
such as the “Minute Waltz” and Rachmaninoff's Prelude
in D-Minor. He never really wanted to play the piano because his
musical aspirations were elsewhere. His father, Fred Wesley Sr.,
was a musician who ran his own big band that played tunes like “The
Hucklebuck”, Open The Door, Richarc J”, “Little
Red Top” and other tunes by Louis Jordan. Fred Sr. was also
the chair of the music department in the Mobile Central High School
where the young Wesley later attended. The horn players in the big
band used to go to his father's house for rehearsal and it was the
trombone player Harry Freeman that caught the attention of the young
“He was such a gregarious type of person, he always laughed
and played with me, and I wanted to be just like him when I grew
up. He played the trombone, so naturally I wanted to play the trombone
to be like Mr Freeman.”
Wesley did not start playing horns until he went to Junior High
School and then he started on the trumpet. His school band teacher
E.B. Coleman, was also a local big band leader. He told Wesley that
if he could sort out his chops on the trombone over the summer he
could play in his group. In the following autumn Wesley became a
featured band member.
It was not very long before Wesley was playing blues and rhythm
and blues in
night-clubs but not exclusively on the trombone. He played drums
in a group with his father who played the piano and with the help
of a trumpeter they played pop-songs and easy listening music.
Wesley then attended Alabama State University where he gained an
Associate Degree in Music. His career as a musician started to take
off when he was 17. Ike Turner asked him to play in the Ike and
Tina Turner hand. Wesley toured with them briefly before deciding
to move on. After a bout of pneumonia Wesley was drafted into the
Army where he played in the 55th Army Band at Redstone Arsenal,
Huntsville, Alabama. There he became a featured soloist. He left
the army as a Graduate of the Armed Forces School of Music and with
a wife and daughter. The responsibility of having a new family caused
Wesley to think about quitting the music business and funding a
good day job that paid well.
“I had the chance to become the first black milk delivery
man in Mobile and I was about to take the job when I got a call
from Waymon Reed. Waymon Reed was now playing for James Brown and
he told me that the band needed a trombone player...”
So in 1967 Wesley began playing with James Brown on a fixed salary
rather than gig money and because he was playing virtually every
night there was little chance to practise jazz.
The James Brown hits “Doin’ It To Death” and
“Papa Don't Take No Mess” were Fred Wesley’s own
tunes. He also got into writing film music co-writing scores for
the movies “Black Caesar” and “Slaughter’s
Big Rip-off”. Fred was with James Brown for 11 years and in
1978 he decided to move on. He then joined up with George Clinton,
which seemed like a natural progression from James Brown.
In 1981 Wesley got the chance to get back into Jazz by working
with Count Basie.
After leaving Count Basie, and for the rest of the Eighties, Wesley
concentrated on producing and arranging. He lent his talents to
such projects as the SOS Band's debut album “Take Your Time”
and Cameo’s 1989 hit “The Skin I'm In”. Other
artists that Wesley worked with during this time included Whitney
Houston, The Meters, De La Soul, Curtis Mayfield and Dr. John. At
the end of the Eighties Wesley decided to launch his solo career
with the album “New Friends."
Simphiwe Dana biography
Simphiwe Dana was born in rural Gcuwa, Transkei (before the family
moved to Lusikisiki) in 1980, where she and her three siblings and
parents shared what she describes as a warm home.
Dana’s father was a preacher who also had a profound love
for church choral music, which his eldest daughter also grew up
singing. Religion and gospel music have played a pivotal role in
both Dana’s spiritual life and the secular one. The only way
to be closer to God is through music, she says.
Dana got her break when she moved to Johannesburg in 2002 and was
spotted by music promoters during her playing stints in small clubs
It may sound clichéd, because it has been said of so many
female vocalists that come on to the scene these days, that they
sound so much like the young Miriam Makebas and Dorothy Masukus,
but Dana’s voice does transport you to that golden era in
South African history.
Cheikh Lô biography
Cheikh Lô was born in 1955, to Senegalese parents in the
small town of Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso not far from the border
with Mali, where he grew up speaking Bambara (language of Mali),
Wolof (language of Senegal) and French. His father was from a long
line of marabouts. From an early age Cheikh Lô was only interested
in music, running away from school to teach himself drums and guitar
on borrowed instruments.
During his teens Lô listened to all kinds of music, especially
the Congolese Rumba which was popular throughout Africa. Cuban music
was all the rage in West Africa in the Fifties, so when his older
brothers started up their 78 singles and danced to “El Pancho
Bravo”, Lô, without understanding a word, would mime
exactly to the Spanish lyrics.
At 21 Lô started playing percussion with Orchestra Volta
Jazz in Bobo Dioulasso. They played all kinds of music and cover
versions of other African tunes, like Ernesto Djedje’s hits
from Côte d’Ivoire.
Lô moved to Dakar in 1970. He started out playing a drum-kit
for the renowned and progressive singer, Ouza, and then in 1984
he joined the house band at the Hotel Savana, drumming and singing
an international repertoire.
In 1985 Lô moved to France, where he was immersed as a session
drummer in the Parisian recording scene. Cheikh recalls:
“Studio - sleep - studio for two years. I love Congolese
and Cameroonian music and I absorbed a lot of it during this period.
Maybe you can hear a bit of Papa Wemba in my singing.”
On his return to Senegal he tried to return to his former job at
the Savana but found that with his (now very long) dreadlocks he
was no longer entirely welcome; so he started looking for someone
to produce his own music.
Youssou N’Dour first encountered Cheikh Lô as a session
musician in 1989 when he was doing the chorus and drums on an album
N’Dour was producing by N’diaga M’baye (a traditional
Wolof griot singer). N’Dour explains;
“…I found something in his voice that’s like
a voyage through Burkina, Niger, Mali.”
Cheikh Lô’s first cassette “Doxandeme”
(Immigrants) came out in 1990, where he sang about the experience
of being Senegalese abroad. The cassette sold well and got his name
around but Lô was not happy with the albums’ production
values. Despite his reservations Lô won the ‘Nouveau
Talent’ award in Dakar. The following year he started to work
on the compositions for “Ne La Thiass”.
Lô dedicates both his music and his life to Baye Fall, a
specifically Senegalese form of Islam and part of the larger Islamic
brotherhood of Mouridism which was established by Bamba (Cheikh
Ahmadou Bamba M’Becke) at the end of the 19th century.
In 2002 Cheikh Lô played various festivals across America
followed by dates in the UK. At the beginning of 2003 Cheikh played
several Spanish dates and appeared at WOMAD in Australia and New
Zealand to much acclaim. He also contributed 2 tracks to the “Red
Hot and Riot” album, which featured many influential world
music artists covering Fela Kuti songs.
Ty is one of UK Black music’s true innovators and popularisers.
He has been making music and pushing boundaries for the last 10
years. With 3 albums, a Mercury Music nomination and countless guest
appearances under his belt with the likes of Tony Allen, De La Soul,
Damon Albarn, Terri Walker, Scratch Perverts, Pee Wee Ellis, Afro
Reggae and Estelle.
Ty has long been involved in the spoken word/poetry scene, as well
as running workshops in schools and beyond since his pivotal involvement
in the mid-90s Ghetto Grammar organisation. Recently holding a series
of production and creative writing master classes in Australia with
The Red Bull Music Academy.
Probably best known for his live shows, Ty has toured the world,
from New York to New Zealand and has established a strong fan base.