Ahead of our party in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015 where we invite the legend in the most soulful club of the capital, we managed to talk to the man himself on topics ranging from his Nigerian roots to his friendships with kerri chandler.
Hard Life • You were brought up as a teenager in New York City, but you spent your childhood in Ibadan Nigeria, if I am right. Obviously your Nigerian roots are important to you as demonstrated by the fact you chose to name your Record label by the name of your birth town. Can you tell us a little more on the influence this has had on your life and music?
Sydenham • The social and spiritual environment surrounding my childhood years in Ibadan, were absolutely the formative influence in my adolescence. For example, in the traditional Yoruba culture, there would always be music at birthdays, weddings and funerals. In addition, there would be parties. I can assure you, the music in all these social variables is pretty much the same dance music. Whether it be High-Life music, Afro-Beat, Akpala or Fuji Reggae. Then, we cannot ignore the western influences leaning heavily towards an African-American influence and not ignoring the Pop and Rock from Europe and America. So as you can see, there was no dull moment in growing up in this colourful environment.
Entering the European sphere, specifically England, ladened with these positive influences and a deep hunger for everything black and non-African, we enter the second stage of my growth: a desire to become a DJ, learning all the latest American dances etc. But also retaining this deep influence Ibadan and Nigeria had on me, kept me focused and on point.
HL • Following on this, you are defined as one of the pioneer of Afro-House. Can you tell us what is this kind of music for you? What are the good ingredients of a Afro-House track? Also, as we are always keen to find nice tracks, can you give a few of your favourite Afro-House gems?
Sydenham • First of all, I don’t believe in these categories and never really used them. I still regard it as House music with definitive acoustic deliberation. I also made a concerted effort to use world-class musicians on my productions. There would be African, Latin and classical influences used at random, in the making of the sounds during this initial period of Ibadan Records.
We all played the same so called, Afro-House alongside with Jersey-House, UK-House, New York House etc. It’s like when I listen to a DJ Gregory classic, I don’t call it French house, I call it dope House (as in really good House music). So I am not into this over-categorisation of House music. I did agree with the terminology ‘Deep-House’ though.
In this, so called Afro-House genre, I love ‘Je Ka Jo’ by Joe Claussell on Ibadan Records and No Smoke – ‘Koro Koro’ as an example.
HL • I wrote for Hard Life an article on your excellent LP Saturday. Can you tell us about your collaboration with Kerri Chandler? When and how did you first meet? How did you end up working together?
Sydenham • Kerri Chandler and I met in the 80s at Club Zanzibar in New Jersey. In late 1989, I went on to sign one of Kerri’s first releases entitled ‘Superlover/Get It Off’ on the Atlantic Records imprint. We have worked together ever since. In fact, at the moment I am remixing ‘Who’s Afraid of the Dark’ by Kerri Chandler.
We have always been best of friends and consider eachother family, and remain so today. As far as the ‘Saturday’ album is concerned it was like going on a summer vacation, as in we had so much fun making it and it never feels like work with Kerri.
HL • Similarly, as a big fan of Joe Claussell, can you also tell us how you first met and how you ended up working with him? Also, in what way is his music different to yours or Kerri’s (my feeling on this is that Joe Claussel’s music has a more latino sound to it)?
Sydenham • Back in the 80s, Joe was like the king of East Village. The baddest DJ around! What a positive influence on everyone. We used to hang out at the record store together and exchange thoughts and music. This record store ended up being owned by Joe Claussell (Dance Tracks). Joe Claussell has been implicit in all major decisions regarding my independent growth in the music business. We have travelled the world together and made beautiful music together and continue to do so, till this day. Great stuff! Let us please remember that we are all individuals and our independent inflections will always rise to the surface. This I believe is a strong definition of independent character.
HL • This LP (Saturday) sounds like it has a lot of different influences. “Beat Down” is a very German Techno track, whilst, “Kò Kò” is a lot more afro-house, whilst “Arò” sounds a lot like seventies West African Music to me. Is this linked to your different migration as an artist, from NYC to Berlin? Why and how moving to Berlin has affected (or not) your label and music?
Sydenham • ‘Saturday’ simply reflects an open-mindedness that has always existed from my early youth. Berlin or Germany had not come into the sphere of influence at this point. You could say that it was a West-African, New Jersey, New York – vibe at that time. As far as a specific Berlin influence, it has merely opened my mind further and my mind remains an enthusiastic sponge.
HL • I heard in one of your previous interviews that you arrived as a young guy in New York, where as you said yourself you “burned the candle by both ends”. More specifically you had the chance to go the paradise garage and listen to Larry Levan play. To a lot of people this period is like a golden age for house music, especially since last year’s revival party for the inauguration of the Larry Levan Way. Can you tell us about this period in house music? What was the spirit or atmosphere like in places like the Paradise Garage?
Sydenham • First of all, the Paradise Garage was a real culture shock for me, the first few times I went in the early 80s, the music was so diverse, the crowd wild and free and primarily gay. Everyone got along perfectly, so it was a true meeting of the open minds. As a straight person, in this new environment (for me) I truly focused on the music and absorbed the diverse musical expressions coming from Larry. What a profound influence!
HL • Here at Hard Life we are big fans of vinyl records. Ibadan has always produced records, so what is your take on the vinyl revival we are currently witnessing?
Sydenham • I have always purchased records and still do. I did not realize there was a revival. I think the sales have been the same for the past seven years.
HL • Now that we are talking about more recent stuff. Can you tell us what upcoming artists we should be listening to in the coming months? Anyone new on Ibadan Records?
Sydenham • Yes, there are a couple of artists to look out for; Janne Tavi, Aybee and Fred P for Ibadan Records and Apotek Records. In addition, we have an EP from Non-Reversible coming out on Apotek Records. There will be more releases from well-established artists in collaborative and remix form. But again, I don’t plan so far ahead and leave all my options open.
HL • By the way, it seems that your identity is very tied to your Record Label. Can you tell us about Ibadan Records, how it was created and what is its philosophy?
Sydenham • To have my own imprint has always been a dream. So once I left the corporate music environment, this was my next immediate endeavour. It is a labour of love. The philosophy is simple; high quality dance music with an open mind. I take this all very seriously and will never stop as long as I have breath in my body.
HL • As we all know music is not limited to House or Techno. Do you have any genre, artists, or tracks that you like to listen to that are outside of the “dance music world”? Any that you would play in a set?
Sydenham • To play a diverse set like that, I’d probably have to be in New York or Tokyo. But of course I listen to hip-hop, African music, reggae music, classical music, folk music, or any dope music I can get my hands on. (Hook me up!)
HL • To finish I would like to ask you something related to our blog. Dure Vie, means Hard Life in English. Our moto is “life is hard, we make it sweet”. What exactly makes life sweeter for you?
Sydenham • Sex, drugs and Rock’n’Roll (not really anymore of course haha), books, food & film, travelling and world culture. This should be keep me busy for the next couple of decades.
Thanks you very much for your time. You definitely made it sweet.
• Questions asked by Sanche •