Born in Ogidi, a small village in Eastern Nigeria, as the youngest of 10 sons in a traditional Igbo family, Charleston Okafor moved to the US in 1985 with the intention of becoming a doctor and enrolled as a pre-med student at Western Kentucky University — although he had long dreamt of pursuing a musical career. In fact, some of his earliest memories involved longing to be involved in the traditional church naming and death ceremonies that his mother, Christina Akuadi Okafor led as a musical director of the woman’s acapella church group. As Okafor fondly recounts in press notes “As was the case in those days, and still is with the youths in my village today, young boys like me longed for the days when we could participate in our own masquerade or nkpokiti dance groups.”
While studying at Western Kentucky University, Okafor had two experiences that altered the course of his adult life — he discovered MTV and began two, deeply influential and lifelong musical friendships with bassist Bryan House, who has worked with Robert Plant‘s backing band Band of Joy, Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush and Dolly Parton and engineer Bill Bitner, the first engineer to work with Okafor. The Nigerian-born singer/songwriter’s friendships with House and Bitner helped him begin his pursuit of a musical career — and interestingly enough paved the road for Okafor to eventually collaborate with renowned producers like Ticlah, who has worked with Easy Star All-Stars, Antibalas and Amy Winehouse and DJ Spooky, both of whom have also remixed some of Okafor’s work.
Some 11 years after moving to the States, Okafar began his musical career in earnest as the frontperson and musical director of the Cleveland, OH-based collective Asante Groove, a project that featured a rotating cast of friends and collaborators that received attention locally and regionally for a sound that possessed elements of dancehall reggae and smooth jazz. He’s also received attention for his WCSB radio program African Abstract, which started in 1992 and is one of Cleveland’s longest running radio shows, as well as a staple of WCSB’s Sunday afternoon programming. Interestingly, Asante Groove along with Okafor’s current backing band Hybrid Shakedown have opened for many of the acts he’s played on his radio program including The Meditations, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Black Uhuru‘s Michael Rose, Oliver Mtukudzi and others. Oh and I must add that Okafor is also a high-school math teacher, which may arguably make him both the coolest math teacher you’ve ever heard of, as well as an extremely busy man.
Adding to the Nigerian-born, Cleveland-based singer/songwriter’s unusual background and career trajectory, instead of going about the prototypical music industry route of following a release of original material with a remix album, he recently released the remix EP in advance of his second album America, an album that thematically focuses on power and oppression, love and partnership while looking at his adopted homeland with a sense of promise and hope — even in light of one of the bitterest and most divisive election cycles in recent memory.
For the remix album, Okafor turned to some old friends — Dub Trio founder Joe Tomino, who Okafar has known since the late 90s; Dubmatrix, who Okafor has long supported on his radio show and was a dear friend of Okafor’s producer Ecodek; and Ray Lugo and Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra‘s Jake Fader, who recently started their own project together Los Terrificos. The album’s first single is Dubmatrix’s skittering and subtly psychedelic yet dance-floor friendly remix of “Rama Rama.”
The recently released music video for the Dubmatrix remix manages to be both psychedelic and flirtatious — all while capturing the infectious joy that Okafor seems to spread far and wide. Lord knows, in this world, we definitely need it.