“Born in The Night” presents the essential tracks from Kapingbi's studio LPs produced between 1978-1981.
Kapingbdi hail from Liberia, West Africa and have their own imitable style. They effortlessly combine traditional African music in a modern mix of Jazz, Funk, Soul and Rock. The band is a fusion of the old and the new.
The word "Kapingbdi" is taken from the Sierra Leone language Mende and means "born in the night". Kojo Samuels was given the name by his Latin teacher whilst attending high school in Freetown, They often meet and debate at night in the city and soon after Kojo is called Kapingbdi. The name serves as a description of his origin. Born In Lagos, Nigeria in 1943. The son of slave children. His mother from Nigeria and father from Sierra Leone who moved the family to Liberia, during the 1950’s.
Kojo has played music for as long as he can remember. He starts with the harmonica and later becomes a drummer and percussionist in his first band at school. During his art studies 1965-1972, he tours Germany and works as an art teacher in the USA. His band Kapingbdi is reorganized five times and consists of up to seven musicians. In a VW-Bulli he drives the group from concert to concert and if the drummer fails, he jumps in himself. Between 1978 and 1981 three Kapingbdi LPs are produced for the independent label Trikont, recorded in Hamburg and Munich. During this creative period, the band plays at festivals in Africa and Europe. In 1984, the band tours the United States and shortly after, they came to an end.
At their best, Kapingbdi would rouse the audience with original compositions like "Human Rights", justice for all, especially for South Africans, and "You Go Go You Go Come". The officials and employees in the government departments have no time for the common man, for any questions such as job search, scholarship or similar, he receives the answer "go, come back tomorrow" and the same thing the following day. Or "Now Is The Time For Cry For Love." Now it is time to scream for love and finally, time for humanity and justice. Despite immense difficulties, the musicians consciously live and work in Africa and are at home in Liberia.
On April 12, 1980, ordinary soldiers and non-commissioned officers organize a coup against the government. This is an attempt to put an end to a policy of exploitation of the Liberian people. Whilst efforts to eradicate poverty, lawlessness and illiteracy are obvious throughout the country, Liberia is still Americanized to a high degree. This is evident, as the radio programs of that time almost exclusively played American disco music. Under these conditions, the people seek a reconnection to their folk music, and Kapingbdi were aware of this. Kojo tried many times to come together with traditional Liberian musicians. This passion takes him north of the country. Meeting and playing with the old hornblowers and playing music on traditional instruments, such as the elephant tusk.
Kapingbdi make high quality tape copies of their own vinyl LPs and patiently try to displace all unauthorized tapes from the domestic "market". Nevertheless, it is hard to make a living through music in Liberia. Kapingbdi, is now celebrated. The radio plays are in abundance, but royalties are not forthcoming. Their musical link is the feeling of Afrobeat and Highlife, which is found in each of the many Kapingbdi pieces. They embody Jazz, which is understood to be the most refined example of black music outside of Africa. In Liberia, Jazz is virtually impossible to hear. Bright shining names such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker or Miles Davis were widely unknown. Thus, the Black Jazz, including its Back-To-Africa movement of the 60’s and 70‘s, passes by without leaving a trace in Africa itself.
Kojo's claim at the time, was to make African music with the depth, sensitivity and the freedom of the technical level of Jazz. This makes Kapingbdi the torchbeares. The underpaid prophets in small Liberia. It is the passion with which the founder of the band continues to work on their music for years. Tirelessly, stimulating and encouraging his fellow musicians. This is ultimately responsible for the success of Kapingbdi in Liberia itself. The local audience seems to listen to the band in fascinated astonishment. One wonders about the ability to develop as demonstrated by Kapingbdi on the basis of their music. It is African and unusually jazzy, danceable and better than the American disco music heard on the radio.
Rather than chase the money and the job opportunities in Europe, Kapingbdi are firmly rooted in Africa. The musicians live in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, at the Kabingbdi workshop, located in the Congotown area on the eastern edge of the sprawling city. Kojo works here as a sculptor, painter, batik artist and musician. The sales revenue that his activities generate, gives him the opportunity to support the development of African Jazz music. The highest percentage of funds are from Germany and Kojo’s work ethic is “to work on your own thing“. The stance taken aims to support the welfare of Liberians and Africans. The other musicians of the group live in a second house that is nearby.
For the sake of consistency, Kapingbdi is a full-time band. However, the revenue, from all of the sources, could not keep them afloat. Equally, as important to the group are Kojos's knowledge of traditional African music and his sculpting skills. His knowledge is shared with others at the afternoon workshops. It is here that they discuss new lyrics, engage in political debate and the self-imposed task of improving conditions in Africa. At times the debate became heated, especially during rehearsals. This was regarded as good and integrative, sowing the seeds of innitiative to keep the band together.
From 1980 to 1985 Kojo also opened and ran the club "Panjebota", located on the grounds of the U.S. Consulate in Monrovia. Almost every evening Kapingbdi perform the song "Wrong Curfew Walk", whose lyrics lament the killing of citizens during the curfew imposed by the Liberian government. When the head of state Samuel Doe hears the song, he behaves agressively and forces Kojo to close the "Panjebota". Kojo had already moved on. Soonafter he meets Fela Kuti at the Africa-Festival and plays concerts in Germany with Cecil Taylor's workshop band.
Kapingbdi is for thinking, dreaming, dancing. What they sing about is what they have experienced. Kojo Samuels is 76 years old today and still follows his vocation as a critical musician, artist and activist.
Ekkehart Fleischhammer / Sonorama 2019 (with the help of original press sheets and the memories of Kojo Samuels)