The SoCaJa movement with Nguzo

Nguzo combines raw and organic music; he’s a touch of soul, with hint of Caribbean and jazz, which naturally infuses through his music. Based in Chicago, Nguzo attempts to explore African Diaspora through his music focusing on what he believes are the cornerstones of ‘black music.’  This includes improvisation, syncopation and nature of sensuality. With true soul bleeding through his voice, we chat to Nguzo about his latest EP ‘Love in Lo-Fi,’ why working with a band is like a marriage and how he seamlessly mashes-up of Soul, Jazz, Funk and Afro- Caribbean. Margaret Tra writes.

You call your music "SoCaJa" what does that mean?

Well, literally "SoCaJa" is an acronym that combines the initial syllables of the words Soul, Caribbean and Jazz. But, aesthetically "SoCaJa" is an exploration (or attempt) of the African Diaspora through music- focusing on what I believe are the cornerstones of Black music. i.e. improvisation, syncopation, spirituality and the profound and profane nature of sensuality.

Are you working on any new projects?

Yes. I am in the process of promoting and releasing my latest recording ‘Love in Lo-Fi.’ It has been a real labour of love, and due to having been burglarised, and subsequently having to rebuild my studio which was long overdue.

Tell us how Zo came about

Nguzo is my name and Zo is my nick name. However, Nguzo was also the name of the artist collective I founded back in 2002 (in the spirit of Santana and Sade etc.). Ideally, it was supposed to function as a springboard and umbrella for a movement of like minded, multi-media artists to collaborate and produce content and performances. At the beginning we had a cafe where poets, musicians, rappers and turntablists would come and we ran it as an open mic. Things never got as radical as I envisioned, I wanted to form a political party as well as a production company, but ultimately we just formed a band. At its peak we had a nine piece band and as people's focus, responsibilities and desires changed- the band became smaller and smaller until eventually it's just me, an army of one.

What was it like working together?

What I found out is that a band, artist collective or any collaborative effort is essentially a marriage. And the more people involved in that marriage, the more complicated it is. At the beginning, like many marriages, we were excited, passionate and had boundless optimism for the possibilities. However, as time wore on we fell into patterns and conventions and kind of lost our sense of purpose. That's why my goal now is to be as simple and organic as possible and to do what comes naturally.

Ideal collaboration?

Anyone who has ever spent more than five minutes in my presence knows this answer: Sade Adu (Lady De).

Who influences you?

The usual suspects; Sam Cooke, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Malcolm X, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, John Coltrane, Max Roach, Motown, Fania, Philly International. Sade (the woman and the band) is probably my biggest influence. I love their elegance; organic fusion and how they don't assume their fans are idiots and therefore are not afraid to use nuance and sophistication. They are the perfect blend of style and substance. Lastly, people who are not afraid to be real influence me, especially when they are being pressured to be fake.

What would be your most memorable moment whilst performing?

Being on stage performing a piece of music, which I most likely conceived of in the early morning hours in solitude, and looking out at a club full of people dancing their hearts out and emotionally connecting to that piece of music. To me there is no greater accolade than someone being inspired to dance to my music.

You seamlessly mash-up of Soul, Jazz, Funk and Afro- Caribbean music, how do you do this?

I do this by trying to point out what all these genres have in common. I feel like Africa is like a great tree whose seeds have been scattered on the wind and transplanted to different soils. And it is because these soils are in various climates that have differing temperatures, rainfall, etc. Of course the trees that come forth from these seeds are going to have characteristics that are unique. But since they have the same root, you can always recognise what binds them and it's intrinsic. It's the same with Black culture- especially music. I feel like all I have to do is what comes naturally and the root will be revealed.

What stimulates your soul?

Raw, organic and true beauty stimulates my soul.