Thursday, July 30, 2009
Bajah + The Dry Eye Crew are one of the hottest acts on the international music scene today. They were featured on The Blood Diamond Soundtrack in 2006, and released a mixtape earlier this week mixed by DJ Gravy. Their debut international release is due out in the fall with guest appearances by Talib Kweli, K'Naan, Black Thought and ?uestlove. I had the pleasure of speaking with Bajah, the group's frontman earlier today.
The Afrobeat Blog: What was your exposure to music like growing up? When did you first start listening to hip-hop and to whom did you listen?
Bajah: When I was growing up my father was listening to hip-hop and traditional african music. When I went abroad, I started listening to other kinds of music, hip-hop, reggae, Nigerian artists.
The Afrobeat Blog: Who were the first hip-hop acts to which you were exposed?
Bajah: Growing up I listened to a lot of hip-hop artists, the ones that I loved the most were KRS-One, Naughty By Nature, Wu-Tang Clan, all of those.
The Afrobeat Blog: What is your opinion of the growing popularity of African hip-hop on the international scene? Who are some other African hip-hop artists to which you listen and respect?
Bajah: Akon, K'Naan, a couple other Nigerian artists, I'm a music lover so I listen to a lot of different music, you know? Two Face from Nigeria
The Afrobeat Blog: Why do you think it is that African hip-hop artists are growing in popularity these days?
Bajah: Well, I think it's the right time for African musicians, they're getting the right promotion, so they're able to do big things. People have been listening to American hip-hop for a while and now they're getting into African hip-hop and I think they're gonna love it.
The Afrobeat Blog: I read on your website you guys are living in Brooklyn these days. How long have you been living in Brooklyn? What's the transition been like?
Bajah: Well, you know Sierra Leone is the least developed country, so if we can make it in Sierra Leone we can make it any other place, you know? We're trying to adapt to the American style.
The Afrobeat Blog: You guys are taking it day by day, taking things as they come?
Bajah: Yeah man, we just go with the flow. We're in Brooklyn as long as the music thing is moving, so we just go with the flow. We're here for the music because as far as I'm concerned Brooklyn is the place for music, we love it, Brooklyn is blowing up right now so I think it's the right place for us.
The Afrobeat Blog: What's it like being worshipped at home and seen as an up-and-coming new artist abroad?
Bajah: Sierra Leone is our homeland, so people already know what we're capable of doing, the fans are already going crazy for us, they really love what we're doing you know? We're for the people, and they already know us back home, but in Brooklyn, we're not yet known, so sometimes people give us the Dry Eye sign, and we'll keep things moving.
The Afrobeat Blog: Tell me about your name, The Dry Eye Crew? What does Dry Eye mean?
Bajah: Dry Eye is when people are talking about being bold, not afraid of things. When we were in Sierra Leone, and things were getting really bad, you know, people were afraid to say what they thought in the newspaper. Since we're musicians, we have a choice to play whatever kind of music we want to play. We could do phony music or we could make conscious music, you know, we believe in the right of the people to say what they want about the politicians, we take the risk, we just do it, so it's like being bold, the word Dry Eye is like being bold, not being afraid to say what you wanna say. It's like being outspoken, you understand?
The Afrobeat Blog: As ambassadors for Sierra Leone to the international music scene, what message would you like to send to the world about your home country?
Bajah: Well, you know, Sierra Leone back in the day was known as one of the best places in Africa to go to, and a lot has happened since then like the civil war, and the war has destroyed a lot of stuff you know? And after the war it's going to be a musical rejuvenation. So people will know that Sierra Leone is ready to contribute to the world musically, it's time to put down the guns and start making music.
The Afrobeat Blog: What is your hope for Sierra Leone as it continues to recover from the civil war and progress towards a functioning democracy?
Bajah: I want Sierra Leone to be one of the best places on the planet, but that's going to take everyone working together, the people, the politicians the musicians, all working together to make Sierra Leone a better place and to make Sierra Leone one of the best places for the arts.
The Afrobeat Blog: What is your opinion of Charles Taylor and what symbolic significance does his war-crime tribunal have for Sierra Leone and the rest of the continent?
Bajah: Well to me it means that whatever you do in life you have to pay the consequences, you know? In W. Africa in particular, and all over Africa, if there are laws that says nobody's supposed to be treated this way then that law should be accountable to everyone. And for Sierra Leonians, not everybody got hurt, but for the people that did, I don't think they want to see Charles Taylor living a better life than them, but they've already lost a lot of people and a lot of family, so I think they just want people to live by the law.
The Afrobeat Blog: What is your opinion of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and her leadership in the region?
Bajah: Well I don't really follow what's going on Liberia right now.
The Afrobeat Blog: What are your goals for the new record coming out in the fall? What's it been like working with Talib Kweli, ?uestlove, and all the other hip-hop stars featured on the album?
Bajah: Since this is my first album, I really want it to be huge, but since it's my first, I just want to see the reception of the people. I don't know what people are going to like. When I did my thing in Sierra Leone I put out my first album in a different style and saw how people reacted and then changed things up from there.
The Afrobeat Blog: So what was it like working with Talib Kweli, ?uestlove and the other hip-hop stars featured on your new album?
Bajah: Back in the day when I was still in Africa, I used to see ?uestlove, Talib Kweli, I used to see these people on TV, I never knew I was gonna meet these people, shake hands with them, work with them, you know, so it's a blessing.
Posted by Marc Amigone at 11:55 PM