It’s probably about time that you’re introduced to Femi Temowo. The Nigerian-born guitarist (and producer) is amongst the most talented jazz musicians currently residing in the UK. Fittingly, he’s just been nominated for a MOBO in the Best Jazz Act category.
His track record speaks for himself. A Ronnie Scott‘s regular, Femi was taught his craft in his late teens by jazz bassist Michael Olatuja, and has perfected it in no time, collaborating with some of the genre’s geniuses, including those more inclined to go down the pop route. On the one hand he’s performed and worked with Courtney Pine, Julie Dexter and Soweto Kinch, on the other he’s provided guitar accompaniment to Irish starlet Samantha Mumba and UK girlgroup Misteeq – remember them?
It’s testament to Femi’s relevance in the current jazz world that his playful guitar riffs and sunny persona have been instrumental (no pun intended) to the rise of two of British jazz’s recent prodigies. Firstly, the guitarist worked and toured with the MOBO award winning rapper and saxophonist Soweto Kinch as that artist’s career really took off, before he became the late, great Amy Winehouse‘s guitarist and Musical Director in the mid ’00s.
He accompanied Amy during some of her formative years, contributing to the development of her artistry with his fast-accumulated jazz acumen and creative instincts. Darcus Beese, Amy’s former A&R representative and Co-President of Island Records, to which she was signed, says “they spoke the same language.” It was a language that came to life on stage. Watch Femi and Winehouse performing an acoustic version of “Stronger Than Me” at Glastonbury below, and you will see not one great solo performance, but a musical unit at its brilliant best.
That was 2004. It’s now 2012 and Femi is establishing himself as an artist in his own right. Just as The Roots’ drummer ?uestlove (whose “Black Lily” night Femi introduced to the UK) has become renowned for his technical brilliance as an individual, so Femi is striking out on his own. In ’06 he composed and recorded his debut solo effort Quiet Storm, making an impression with a record that he said was only him “clearing his throat.” Femi went on to open the 2011 Canary Wharf jazz festival with tracks from this album, getting the crowd moving to the groove of his international jam “Wood & Strings”.
In that same year Femi released his incredible second album, Orin Meta, a work heavily influenced by his brief return to West Africa. The MOBO-nominated project, which literally means “Three Songs”, is loosely based on the the folk rhythms and storytelling tradition of the Yoruba people. In the words of an expert – Soweto Kinch – he fuses this “Yoruba identity with the jazz idiom in a way that’s really truthful to both”.
His is a transnational story, the narrative of a man who moved (in his formative years) from Akure to Streatham, discovering multifarious kinds of music in the process. Parts of Orin Meta have been compared to jazz guitar maestro Wes Anderson‘s funky hard-bop, but talking drums, samba influences and an array of stunning string arrangements make this a unique and eclectic project. Listen to the ambient, expansive ten minute opener “The Storyteller’s Psalm” below, and try not to smile:
If you like what you hear as much as I do, you can buy Orin Meta on Amazon. There’s still time to vote for Femi in the MOBOs here, and to explain why you should, I’ll leave you with a video made by some of his closest supporters (who also happen to be some rather important figures in British jazz).