Yusupha Ngum & The Affia Band will bring the sounds of Senegambia to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Monday March 29.
Melbourne-based, Gambian singer-songwriter and storyteller Yusupha Ngum has spent the last couple of decades building on the legacy of his late father, the celebrated Wolof musician and griot Musa Afia Ngum.
Musa passed away in 2015, after which Yusupha moved to Australia and formed the Affia Band. The project has its roots in the popular percussive music style, mbalax, the most famous music to have emerged from the Senegambian region.
Mbalax’s best-known global exponent is Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, who cites Musa Ngum as a major influence. However, Yusupha prefers to describe the Affia Band as an Afro-fusion outfit.
“Mbalax is the famous Senegambian music that people are used to but it’s not the only music there, because the Afro-Manding is bigger. The Fula people, the Mandinka people, the Jola – they’re all part of the Afro-Manding,” he says.
Keen for more music reads? Subscribe to Beat here and we’ll send them straight to your inbox.
“When it comes to the music we’re doing, we represent Africa, we don’t represent a country. So that’s what why use the word Afro-fusion, because we are from Africa; this is not European. And you mix it with sax, guitar, bass, you play it with piano, you know that it is different. So that’s why we call it Afro-fusion.”
The Affia Band has gone through various personnel changes over the past five years, with the current lineup including Felix Billington Kleinman on drums, Matt Steele on keyboard, Paul Cornelius on saxophone, Luke Coszañski on guitar, Nick Delaney on bass, and Ngum on vocals.
“We have finally recorded an album that’s supposed to be out very soon,” says Ngum. “During wintertime I think it will be out, inshallah. It is a nine-song album.”
The upcoming Sidney Myer Music Bowl gig was originally scheduled for mid-February, but postponed due to Victoria’s snap lockdown. Ngum and the Affia Band were selected to play by Bar Oussou, a Senegalese restaurant and live music space on Sydney Rd, Brunswick.
Ngum’s been a regular performer at Bar Oussou over the last few years, finding kinship there and relishing the opportunity to share his Wolof culture with the people of Melbourne.
“Bar Oussou is our hub, definitely,” he says. “We started everything from there. We do different projects in Bar Oussou. I do the acoustic vibes, the rock vibes and the Affia Band there.”
The Monday March 29 event is part of Live at the Bowl’s Happy Mondays series and the lineup also includes Sui Zhen. It’ll be Ngum and the Affia Band’s first major performance since before the pandemic.
View this post on Instagram
“Definitely looking forward to making it happen,” he says. “100% entertainment, satisfaction guaranteed. It’s our first time in there and we love to deliver to the maximum.”
It’s a confident claim, but it doesn’t come from nowhere. Ngum has been a working musician since the late-1990s when he co-founded the pioneering Gambian hip hop group, Galaxy Crew. He transitioned away from hip hop to launch a solo career in the mid-‘00s while also performing regularly with his father.
In fact, Yusupha and Musa were on tour in Senegal at the time of his father’s death in 2015. Many of Musa’s songs remain a core part of Yusupha and the Affia Band’s repertoire.
“My singing’s genetic from my dad,” says Yusupha. “My dad is the first in his family to take music in a professional level. Because we had griots: storytellers and singers. A griot should be a storyteller, because the kings used to have griots to witness the events and create songs about it and sing for their glories.
“But my dad, in a professional way, he was the first one who took it to the other level as we became musicians travelling the world, playing music, doing recordings, being a performing artist and singer-songwriter. So my dad is my mentor – everything I’m doing I’m just continuing his legacy.”
Yusupha Ngum & The Affia Band perform at Sidney Myer Music Bowl alongside Sui Zhen on Monday March 29. Grab tickets here.