Everyone into the music we call jazz has a story about how they came to love it. It’s rarely by happenstance. The exposure is usually from a parent, older sibling or relative. Sometimes it’s via school or music lessons. My trajectory was completely different. I didn’t grow up in a jazz household. I didn’t play any instruments, nor did I take any music lessons. The first music I heard growing up in a Nigerian household was Nigerian music. My older sister was a Fela Kuti fan, and by proxy I became a Fela fan. It was through Fela Kuti that I discovered jazz in my early teens. Yes, I got into jazz via afrobeat. That sounds unconventional on paper, but that is how it happened.
Fela had a song called Zombie, and the first 5 minutes of the track is nothing but horns. Unrelenting, powerful horns. I was so enamored with the sound that I went to the library to look up trumpet and saxophone players. From my search, I got musicians like Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie first. I would then rush to my local store called Nobody Beats the Wiz, as they had jazz CDs for $4.99. I would buy Blue Note CDs, and then if I liked what I heard, I would buy albums from the sidemen on the disc. So if I bought a Lee Morgan disc and Hank Mobley was a sideman on it, then I would buy Mobley discs, then that led me to Kenny Dorham, which led me to Joe Henderson etc. This was how I discovered jazz. Most of the players were connected. I really learned a tremendous deal about the music this way. Simply by exploring what I liked and didn’t like. And it all started because of Fela Kuti. I was not exposed to jazz directly, but it goes to show you that all music is connected.