Orlando Julius is one of the living legends of African music, a genuine pioneer whose early fusions of highlife and soul paved the way for Afrobeat. All the more amazing, then, that his new release Jaiyede Afro, recorded with the UK-based band the Heliocentrics, is his first internationally released studio album that’s not a reissue of decades-old work.
Born in 1943, Orlando Julius Aremu Olusanya Ekemode was the fourth son of a family of merchants. In 1957, following the death of his father, he moved to Ibadan, the then-capital of Nigeria’s western region, to make his name as a musician. He started out as a drummer, but soon learned multiple instruments, including the alto saxophone, with which he’s most strongly identified today.
In the mid ’60s, Julius began to blend Nigerian highlife with Latin grooves and horn charts, inspired by soul acts like Sam & Dave; the result was a punchy, aggressive and ultra-danceable sound he called Super Afro Soul. His Modern Aces band had a regular gig at Ibadan’s Independence Hotel, where he met and mentored a young Fela Kuti, even giving him four musicians to help start what became Afrika 70. By the early ‘70s, Julius’s music — with his new group, the Afro Sounders — had become harder and even more groove-oriented, bringing in the influence of James Brown (who he met when the Godfather toured Africa) and ultimately pioneering what became known as Afrobeat.