Way back in the early 1980s, I was studying traditional drums and dance of Africa and the Diaspora. A friend who was a radio DJ began giving me cassettes of various Afro-pop artists; Mbilia Bel, Kanda Bongo Man, King Sunny Ade, The Real Sounds, Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi…you get the idea. What really got my attention were the guitars and how they worked together (think of what Americans were doing in those days; Punk, Glam-Rock, Metal, blah blah blah). I had played guitar since I was 13 years old and this “sound” was life changing for me. Reinvigorated about playing guitar, I jumped into the deep and vast sea of Afro-pop and never stopped swimming. Over the years I had a few different bands, mostly what were then called World Beat, playing a wide range of styles and fusions of styles, occasionally collaborating with musicians from Nigeria, Cameroon and knowledgeable African Americans. One of my earlier bands, Pulse, opened concerts for King Sunny Ade and Kanda Bongo Man, among others. As technology began to change all music more drastically and “urbanization” of all styles was rapidly taking place, I found myself drawn deeper into the heart of Africa. I became more and more intrigued by contemporary music which retained elements of tradition, carried forward by blending traditional instruments like kora, marimba and mbira with guitars.
Fast forward to 2008; some friends were having a regular lunchtime marimba jams. I had played some marimba and was also developing as a guitarist. I had been writing and arranging for a long time at this point, so songs began to fall together. About the same time, a couple of new friends also began to come to these jams. One was a songwriting marathon runner from Cote d’Ivoire, Bassirima Soro (K-Bass) and the other was a university professor from Zimbabwe, Praise Zenenga, a rare friend who actually seemed to “get” me and who has since opened so many doors for me. The pieces fell into place and the Key Ingredients of African Soul launched into playing locally (Arizona, USA). We opened up concerts for international touring acts Toubab Krewe, Khaira Arby and Tinariwen. An unusual band in this southwest region of the USA, we enjoyed many successes and even played as far as the Ashkenaz in Berkeley, California. During this time, through my colleague Praise, I met Thomas Mapfumo and his band. They came and relaxed at my place while on tour. Praise also introduced me, via email, to Albert Nyathi. I began to dream of going to Zimbabwe and in 2010, that dream came true. While there, not only did I enjoy Albert’s hospitality, I met and jammed with more than just a few other musicians ranging from Gospel Rumba to traditional marimba. I was even invited to perform with the Bulawayo Kwela Kings at the Harare Winter Jazz Festival. A couple weeks later, we played together again in the Bulawayo suburb of Nkulumani. I saw Tuku on my 62nd birthday at the Lakeside Resort outside of Harare and Leonard K. Zhakata at the City Sports Bar my last night in Zim, both interesting stories for another time. While in Zimbabwe, Praise introduced me to Fafi aka 3Percent from Chegutu. A month or so after my return home, Fafi showed up in Tucson and he joined up with us for about a year. Our 2011 CD, Abidjan to Bulawayo, featured this unique front line; an urban poet from Zim, a singing professor from Zim and a singing marathon runner from Cote d’Ivoire.
As fate would have it, within a few months after the CD release, 5 of our members (2 vocalists, a drummer, a bassist and a marimba player) either relocated or opted to pursue different musical goals. The subsequent re-organization process brought in many musicians inspired by music from Mother Africa. Within two years of reconfiguring, we collaborated with various prominent Zimbabwean artists to record and release another CD, Crossing Borders, Breaking Boundaries, and a third album is currently in the making. With a repertoire of more than 40 original songs and a few adaptations under our belt, we are currently enjoying rocking the dance floors with our special brand of Afropop fusion (Highlife, Soukous, Sungura, Chemurenga, Reggae…and the list goes on). Through our open door policy and by virtue of our location in a predominantly university town, we have, over the years, provided invaluable training to several college students interested in learning different styles of African music. We also frequently enjoy hosting touring African artists; in the past couple years, we have hosted and collaborated with Zimbabwe’s Patience Mudeka and Blessing Chimanga.
Currently in the band:
Mike “Doc Twang” Olson- guitar, marimba, vocals
Praise Zenenga- vocals
Luis Rodriguez- bass
Austin Reeves- drums
Kimberly Madison- marimba and vocals
Joe Whitley- percussion