Premiere: Baba Ali – Cog In the Wheel

Today we have something really groovy for you, courtesy of new kid on the block, Baba Ali. ‘Cog in The Wheel’, Baba’s modern musings about the ruthless rhythm of his 9-5 life, is structurally house, but Baba brings so much old school groove and soul, it evokes Prince and Michael Jackson in parts. Both are no doubt big influences on the young musician, especially the latter as seen in his style and movement in the accompanying music video by director Dan Tombs

Baba was introduced to Brooklyn based artists and label Wolf + Lamb (Gadi Mizrahi & Zev Eisenberg) after meeting one of their early signings Nicolas Jaar at University. Gadi went on to sign Baba’s duo with Jules Born Voices of Black in 2009. Now concentrating on making music solo, Baba supported Gold Panda on his latest North American tour and has since moved from New York to London to do masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths.  Baba is now releasing his debut EP, NOMAD, a groovy and soulful collection of his productions and singing, which were made out of the emotions (good and bad) that arose when moving though America and his daily life.

Nomad is out 3rd March on Ways and Means – pre-order from Juno.

Q&A with Baba Ali

Who is Baba Ali and what key musical steps have brought you to this point?

Ever since I was young, “Baba” was what I was called. It’s short for Babatunde, which is a quite common Nigerian name.. But, calling someone “Baba”, especially by your own parents, is very unusual since it means “father” in the Nigerian Yoruba diaelct. I later learned its a common name for “father” in many other African, Middle Eastern and Asian languages. My mom says that it was easier for her to write “Baba” on my lunchbox and all my school stuff when I young, and the name just stuck.. As I was growing up I was teased a bit because people thought “Baba” was a funny name.  Some kids would joke and call me “Ali Baba”. It was later that I decided to flip it around and voilà…

Music-wise, I started playing piano when I was seven… I’m no prodigy but I’ve always loved playing jazz and the blues. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to appreciate the process of practicing more than when I was a teenager. Now, practicing is like therapy for me and I can easily get lost what I’m playing. It took a bit of time for me to feel comfortable with my singing. Its only this recent past two years that I really began to record my voice.  Gold Panda was one of the first to really encourage and support what I was doing after he heard the rough demos I sent him. These eventually became the songs for the Nomad EP. When I was finally ready to perform live, Derwin (Gold Panda) blessed me with the opportunity to support him on some shows last summer in North America, and I just recently supported him again last December at Oval Space. As a vocal performer, I would consider myself a late bloomer.. I sang a bit in the school choir, but I still feel that there’s room to grow into my own. I practice any and every moment I’m alone, and I definitely sing in the shower almost every morning…. I can’t help it! To be honest a lot of my songwriting ideas first come to me when I’m in the shower. In fact all the songs on the Nomad EP were first born in the shower….

Could you give us a little insight into Cog In The Wheel – inspirations and the idea behind it and where it fits into the EP.

I think songwriting can be very powerful when artists are able to convey ideas from their own personal experience, and the EP is a collection of songs that tell stories of what I’ve experienced in my own life. “Cog In the Wheel” is directly inspired by my  experiences of trying to survive and support myself in New York. Working odd jobs, commuting early in the morning with only four hours of sleep, looking at all the sad faces on the subway and sharing in that sadness, getting fired…especially getting fired!  I actually wrote and recorded a large bulk of the song during the week after losing my job. It got kinda dark for a bit, but it also motivated me to adopt an all or nothing approach to my music, mainly because the 9-5 for me just didn’t seem like a rewarding long term goal…just a means to an end. The stress of unemployment also made me realize how money can easily become something you almost always desperately need.. almost more than fucking air itself. Living in a stupidly expensive city like New York, makes that need even more savage. Shoutout to “Friends” for selling us all this lie about living in the Big Apple all these damn years….

And the EP as a whole, what’s the idea behind it and what would you like listeners to take away from it?

It’s three stories that were inspired by very specific moments in my life, but in a way I think many of us have had experiences that can relate to what I’m expressing in these stories.I decided to name the Project “Nomad” mainly because its the word that  best describes how I’ve lived my life in the last 5 years up to now… I’ve traveled and lived in a lot of different places, and now I’ve ended up here in London to study Art at Goldsmiths.

Were there any albums you were listening to when making this EP that really informed the outcome?

I remember getting a tattoo from this really amazing artist based in New Orleans, and he was playing early recordings of the Staples Singers. “I’m Coming Home” left me nearly in tears when I first heard it. Mavis Staples’ singing was hauntingly beautiful on that record, and I wanted to emulate, as best as I could, her ability to capture such an intense level of earnesty and rawness. I also was listening to this amazing gem of an album that a friend shared with me: Idassane Wallet Muhammed. Its choral singing from the Imazighen people of Mali. Its simply just voices, a drum and some handclaps — it really turned me on to the immense amount of depth you can get out of the most minimal amount of elements. This especially holds true for the the human voice.

You were recently named by Gold Panda as his Pitchfork Rising prediction for 2017. How about your own ones to watch?

I love Kelsey Lu. She’s amazing! I’m definitely looking forward to what she’ll put out next. Keep an eye out on Gold Panda’s Notown Label, he’s got impeccable taste and an amazing knack for finding the weirdest shit that will blow your mind.

Beyond the EP, what other plans are afoot for releases and live dates?

I’m doing my first headline show in London, 1st of March at this nice and intimate little space in Stoke Newington called the Waiting Room. There will be more music in the pipeline, of course! I plan to have some new material out in May and will continue sharing my work through the summer, the fall and beyond. stay tuned.. xx

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