Mics And Beats: Charles Bodo of Lele Ngoma

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Musician Charles Bodo

It’s Thursday and time for our segment that appears twice a month called Mics And Beats. Today we have Charles Bodo as our guest on Mics And Beats. Charles Bodo is the lead vocalist in Lele Ngoma, an Urban Afrosoul band based in Nairobi.

Musician Charles Bodo
Musician Charles Bodo

When and why did you start playing? Which instruments do you play?

My voice is my instrument. I know basic guitar-enough to show off to anyone who is clueless about it. I started singing when I was a toddler I guess, like everyone else. I started taking it seriously in high school because I was too scared to do so in primary school. I was part of the choir and started on composition-which I still keep private. Why? Because music makes me come alive, more than anything else-despite my limited experience in anything else.

Do you have a formal musical education?

Basic. Again. Enough to have an idea that a conversation is musical but not enough to contribute to it.

Thinking back to early childhood what was your first experience with music for the first time like. What song do you remember most as a child?

Another day in paradise by Phil Collins, Bob Marley’s no woman no cry and Lucky Dube’s Different colours one People. I know you asked for only one but my childhood memory has many songs so I can’t just pick one. I also remember Kenny Rogers’ Coward of the county and Dolly Parton’s Christmas album. For all those songs I’m sure the lyrics I sang are not close to the actual ones. 😀

What musical influences did you have a child?

Well, as you can see above, the usual country and reggae people. I’d love to add Judy Boucher (Mathe had her cassette tape which would be on replay), church/choral music which introduced me to the sweetness in harmonies. Later on (Class 5 is still childhood, right?) Kofi Olomide, Mbilia Bel, Les Wanyika, Remy Ongala, Generale Biffao. Choral influences-Muungano Choir’s Misa Luba.

How is the music different from what you listen to now?

My musical ears grew with more variety (more radio stations, friends) and my interaction with musicians later on. I can’t say I’m tied down to a genre but I can now appreciate neosoul, Jazz and Blues which wasn’t in my menu before.

What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I can’t remember clearly. I know I thought of being a musician back in primary school, class 5. I could differentiate and sing harmonies by that time. I guessed it was some sort of gift. The idea of a career stayed below the surface for long with instances where I wished I was on stage like so and so. I also-singing along to radio music so I knew I could sing.

After high school however, I strongly felt the desire to compose and do music since I did not like the ‘shake it’ kind of music playing on radio back then. I wanted content myself and no one was offering it. So I wanted to provide it for other people like myself.

Who are your favourite musicians now? Groups? CD’s?

Asa (first album-Asa), Adele (both 21 and 19), Lokua Kanza (Plus Vivant), Eric Wainaina (Twende Twende). I’m currently liking Reuben Studdard (Love Is). I chose musicians whose albums I can listen to over and over and fall in love with every song each time.

How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

It depends. If it is in the middle of singing for instance I salvage the situation by distracting the audience. If it is someone else’s I laugh it off.

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

You’ll always be nervous. It is part of the performance, that adrenaline rush is good for a show. All the best performers have it. If this scares them I’d change tact and tell them that it’s more about having fun on stage than anything.

How often and for how long do you practice?

On a break for a month. However I have always done at least an hour daily.

Do you teach music?

No. My other passion is design. That is why.

How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?

I would like to think it is raw and soulful.

What can people expect to see at your live performance?

Fun and Mafeelings. Our performances are about creating one space where the audience is part of the show, part of our emotions as we play.

What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?

Being considered to be signed up by an organisation running some of the big acts doing festival circuits in Europe and Africa.

How much creative control do you have over what you play?

All of it. We like to believe our fans are in this with us, so long as we stay true to our promise-to be eclectic, African (whatever they perceive it to be) and soulful (make music that moves).

If you had a chance to change something in the music industry what would it be?

I would have radio stations playing a wider variety. Not that pop music is bad but in my observation pop music in other countries allows for folk music (Passenger), country (Jason Mraz), Blues (John Mayer) RnB (Mary J Blige), Rock (P!nk) and club bangers (Lil Jon) whereas in Kenya our pop industry, which is what is played on radio, is limited to club bangers/club music.

Before Lele Ngoma did you sing with any other bands?

I have backed one or two musicians in the past. However my band has been Lele Ngoma for the last 5 years or so.

What is your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play now?

As generic as the term is, I love AfroFusion. I like what Winyo does with his acoustic version of Benga or what Eric did in Twende Twende or Asa singing Awe with strings accompanying her. It’s the genre that ‘gets me’.

It is in line with the kind of music we compose and play.

What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?

I am a graphic designer and I dabble with poetry every now and then.

To relax I watch series and spend time with friends.

What keeps you going as a musician?

I ask myself that a lot. Sometimes it’s the fact that I’d like ‘good’ music to saturate the musicmosphere (hehe) and at times it’s the desire to express what people feel in a unique way, in a way that makes them break down in tears.

Where would you like to see yourself within the next five years as an artist? What are your long term career goals?

An album, collaborations and tours. I’d like to tour. It’s been my dream for a long time.

If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be?

Never thought about this, I’d however I would love to share the stage with James Brown, Adele and weirdly enough, Papa Wemba.

What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News

We’re playing it quite close to the chest at the moment. You’ll know it when you see it.

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