BEN OKAFOR spoke with Tony Cummings.
Tony: 'Coffee With Lazarus' is FINALLY getting the high street shop distribution it deserves. Also, there is a lot of new media interest in you and your album. Has it been frustrating waiting so long to get to this situation with 'Coffee With Lazarus'?
Ben: We are delighted with the progress that 'Coffee With Lazarus' has made so far. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to talk with a record company and not think... yeah, I have heard all this before - then the feeling of reassurance which is borne of the fact that this company is prepared to act on its beliefs. But I never had any real fears about whether 'Coffee With Lazarus' would gain wide public hearing or not. Yes, I felt frustrated but, it would not only be a lie to blame it all on time spent waiting for something like this to happen to the album, it would grossly unrighteous (unjust). My life here as a black artist with his own ideas has shown me one or two things.
Tony: Back in 2000 when Cross Rhythms first reviewed 'Coffee With Lazarus' we gave it a 10 square "indispensible" rating. Do you think it's your best ever work and if so, why?
Ben: Yeah! I well remember that review. I don't think I ever thanked your magazine for what it wrote about the album. It came at a time when I wasn't feeling overly confident about a lot of stuff and so was good to see, so a big THANK YOU. It's very hard for me to say whether or not I think 'Coffee With Lazarus' is the best album we've done so far. Production is better because there was more money to go into the project. My producer and I had more time in the studio than I'd ever spent on any other recording project. This is still miniscule compared to what is considered normal to make a serious album. I would say that the songs are as good as is the musicianship. Production.different.
Tony: Your song "Give Food" says a lot to both Christians and non-Christians. Tell us a bit about the song.
Ben: I suppose "Give Food", as a thought, is the place where personal experience and faith began to say the same thing. Living through a civil war in my youth made real the thing which my parents always said to us kids... basically about not shying away from opportunities of sharing what is your own property that would benefit another. I learnt how crucial this is to our basic survival as humans.Then I read from the Bible that Jesus actually performed a miracle in feeding thousands of people, just to make the same point. "Give Food" is probably just a way of saying that the world hasn't changed much since the days of my early teens. Yet it is comforting to me that the dream to keep people fed grows.
Tony: When you go into the studio do you have a specific musical plan to fuse African, Jamaican and Western rhythms, or does it just happen?
Ben: I don't really think like that. At least, I don't remember ever doing so. The thing is that all the musical experiences I had as a child of African music performed by Africans, American and Western European musical styles fused with a later exposure to reggae. The end result can be confusing. It doesn't have to be. I just simply write a song and, depending on where my head is at, it comes out how it does. What I do after that is to go with the song to as far a point as I can. So maybe you are right....it probably just happens.
Tony: What plans and activities do you have lined up for the
Ben: The world. Taking my music to the ends of the earth. That is it.