Baba Kuboye

On a chilly day in March 2023, Afrobeat was on full display at the annual SXSW festival in Austin Tx. Despite heavy winds destroying the outdoor stage 24 hours before, Baba Kuboye and his 13 man band had fun connecting with fans with his original and energetic Afrobeat music. That performance changed the trajectory for this young Nigerian American artist, who had just released his EP ‘From Ikoyi With horns’ a few months before.

Released under the first independent and minority owned Afrobeat label in Texas, Baba was getting attention from original Afrobeat lovers from all over the world long before SXSW. The first single ‘Kalakuta girl’, – a song that celebrates women, trended in Vienna Austria in its first week of release. The visuals for this single complemented the rich percussion/ afrocentric sound – which was shot at the legendary ‘Afrikan Shrine’ home of the king of afrobeat the late Fela Kuti. 

Baba (full name Babatunmida) – had watched Fela perform many times as a youngster. More than Fela, he had watched his parents perform every Friday and Saturday night at their resident club called Jazz 38 in Lagos Nigeria.  He not only watched them, he performed alongside them from an early age. The location of the venue in Ikoyi, Lagos – is not far from where Fela had protested the killing of his mother (Baba’s great grand mother) Funmilayo Ransome Kuti by military officials.  Though this happened before Baba was born, Nigeria stood still in 1978 when Fela daringly marched with thousands of protesters, carrying a coffin full of ‘shit’ to the military HQ at Dodan Barracks, the Nigerian equivalent of the White House.  It was even captured in a song Fela released called ‘Coffin for head of state’. 

Nigeria was under a military dictatorship then, however fast forwarding to SXSW – Baba explained that some things had not changed for the young democratic nation as he performed his 2nd single called ‘Ikoyi Boy’. A socially conscious song laced with gratitude, Baba spoke not only of his beginnings but also of the military intervention that led to the killings of some protesters on a march in the height of COVID in 2020.

Exhibiting his flair for social justice and conscious messaging, coupled with saxophone playing, keyboard playing, rapping, singing and dancing – a world of opportunities opened up for Baba. His music videos started airing on cable networks like BET&MTV, his single ‘Ikoyi Boy’ won an award for best Afrobeat/Afropop song at the Hollywood Independent Music Awards – and he started getting a steady stream of bookings. 

Coming from a long line of musicians and community servers, it is no surprise that Baba’s last EP is full of songs with conscious messaging like Yawa – which talks about racism, Cool it down that talks about mental health issues, ‘Yes Sir’ that talks about social media not being real life. When asked about what his plans are for 2023 and beyond, Baba explains that he will continue to put out music that serves the greater good.