Orlando Julius (born 1943) is a saxophonist, singer and songwriter from Nigeria known for fusing traditional African sounds and rhythms with those of American pop, soul, and R&B, and was a major influence on Fela Kuti and Afrobeat.
“Orlando” Julius Aremu Olusanya Ekemode was born in 1943 in the Osun state of Nigeria. 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.
Aside from performing and recording in his native Nigeria, he spent over 25 years in the United States, in the Bay Area and Nashville (where he operated a club and a recording studio) working on collaborations with Lamont Dozier, the Crusaders, and Hugh Masekela, and co-wrote Lamont Dozier’s 1977 hit “Going Back to My Roots”, but he never released an album on a US label.
Released in 2014 (Strut records), “Jaiyede Afro” album is recorded with London’s The Heliocentrics (known for recording collaborative albums with Mulatu Astatke, Lloyd Miller, and Melvin Van Peebles). The Heliocentrics brought Orlando Julius to their all-analog studio in North London, where they backed him in a series of recordings.
For ‘Jaiyede Afro’, Julius takes us back to his own roots, revisiting several compositions from his early years which have never previously been recorded. The title track recalls his experiences as a boy: “My mother would go to group meetings with other women. They would sing together and play drums, I would play along with them and we would sing this song together.”
Infectious chant ‘Omo Oba Blues’ is a traditional song sung at Julius’ school which he re-arranged in 1965 for his Modern Aces band. The epic Afrobeat jam ‘Be Counted’ stems from his years in the USA: “This was written around 1976 while I was living on the Westcoast. I did start recording it for the ‘Sisi Sade’ album around 1985 but it was never ﬁnished.”
Other tracks include ‘Buje Buje’ and ‘Aseni’, both re-worked arrangements from his rare ‘Orlando Julius and The Afro Sounders’ album from 1973.