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Baker's Dozen

Jazz Is My Religion: Idris Ackamoor’s Baker’s Dozen
Siobhan Kane , September 6th, 2023 09:49

In a sprawling Baker’s Dozen, longstanding jazz legend Idris Ackamoor tells Siobhán Kane about the way Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Bob Marley and more have inspired his life and work


Fela Ransome Kuti & The Africa 70 – Greatest Hits

He has always been one of my favourite artists, and his Greatest Hits remind me of his political, musical and societal importance to me personally. Once I became aware of him he remained one of my biggest inspirations. I can listen to ‘Unknown Soldier’ for its floating trance-like groove and the political references to the killing of his mother by Nigerian armed forces. I really admire his ability to weave the infectious grooves with politically dangerous themes like on ‘Zombie’ – and he had to pay the price, getting beaten up by the Nigerian military. As much as I love being in Africa, I never went thinking I was African, I went in search of my ancestors as an African American. You have got to embrace it all if that’s what you are trying to be, and because of the legacy of colonialism the African military is atrocious. The coups that have happened, the wars that divide nations and tribes, the fact that Fela was there at a point where you could be disappeared in a moment if you got on the wrong side of the Nigerian military… he was very courageous. Fortunately, I was in Ghana, which had a slightly smoother political atmosphere.

One of the things I enjoyed about Fela’s music was being inspired by his playful tenor sax. If not masterful, his combination of tenor sax and keyboard was so unique. I look to how he connected his tenor playing to keys to vocals. The Pyramids have African dance foundation to our rhythms, but we are still into the avant-garde flow on top of that foundation. Fela doesn’t do that necessarily, it’s not so much about improvisation, but you listen to him for something else, he’s unfiltered, so raw, I love that.