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’Perpie’ Perpetual Atife
Timothonius Alai

The history of Jazz is inseparable from Black history, music and culture. Legendary Black musicians honed their craft in a society struggling with racial injustice and created the musical artform of jazz, expressing their experiences, thoughts and emotions through improvisation, exploration, and skill. In recognition of Black History Month, we reached out to two local artists for their personal perspectives on jazz music and their inspirations and experiences. 

’Perpie’ Perpetual Atife

Instrument: Saxophones & Vocals 

Best memory playing jazz: the first ever Jazz festival I headlined was the MUSON Jazz Fest in Nigerian and felt so good to perform freely, improvise and perform with highly rated jazz musicians as my backing band. I left the Shell Hall that night feeling really accomplished and challenged at the same time.

What was it that drew you to jazz music? 

Three things honestly.

  1. It all started with the instrument, the saxophone
  2. The metropolitan city in which I was raised, Lagos. 
  3. The Freedom and space to experiment, be and experiment again.

My journey as an artist started in my twenties, about a decade ago and I recall being handed a saxophone by a classmate Uche. Somehow, if you play the saxophone, you are seen as a Jazz musician and expected to play jazz. Also, being surrounded by peers and teachers at the MUSON Centre who were very active in the growing jazz scene in Lagos, triggered my attraction to jazz.

Who is a musician who has inspired you?

Three black musicians actually, Hugh Masekela (South African), Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Nigerian) and Kirk Whalum. Listening to these three very different and expressive musicians have led me to a place of acceptance. They have defined jazz in their own terms and that freedom or room for uniqueness in expression has given me a good landing.

What advice would you give to people who want to learn more about the history of black musicians in jazz and the history of black music?

I’d encourage you to just listen. Listen to the music of Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti and their contemporaries. Listen long enough and with an open mind and you will feel it. You will walk the path to the history and to the music.

Timothonius Alai

Instrument: Piano

Best memory playing jazz: Attending the jazz performance diploma program at Mount Royal, and playing “jazz at noon” in the cafeteria with my classmates. that was a lot of fun.

What was it that drew you to jazz music? 

I studied classical music for a majority of my years leading up to my decision to go to music school. I also informally studied gospel music and was pretty involved playing at my church at the time. After receiving my Royal Conservatory Grade 8 certification, I found myself at the crossroads. I had a love for many classical composers, especially from the Post-Romantic era – Prokofiev, Ravel, Debussy, Scriabin. But I always wanted to play my own music and carve my own path. One thing that really drew me to jazz was how 10 different musicians could play the same standard and come up with totally different arrangements. The song itself was the vehicle, rather than the destination. I always loved the freedom that jazz music offered. The freedom to be myself.

Who is a musician who has inspired you? 

It’s so hard to pick just one, but if I were to pick a single artist, it would be Duke Ellington. He inspired me because he was so much more than a great player. He was a great leader, and he knew how to bring out the best in the artists he worked with. Both as an accompanist and as a music producer, he’s inspired me to do the same.

What advice would you give to people who want to learn more about the history of black musicians in jazz and the history of black music?

-Look beyond the notes. Study the culture, the times, and the prevailing social conditions around the style of music you want to understand. Its easy to learn the “technicals” – what notes to play, when to play them. But capturing the “spirit” of the music is an entirely different matter. Lastly, study the lives of the artists who wrote the music. A song comes to life in an entirely different way when you understand the journey that led to its creation.

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