The too often-used tactic of describing a musician by comparing them to another musician of years past is typically a lazy maneuver that fails to properly individualize the modern artist from their legendary counterpart. However, there is plenty of merit in the repeated comparisons critics have made over the years between Bob Marley and Ghanian reggae/highlife artist Rocky Dawuni. Without the spark of Marley's music that lit the creative fire within a young, impressionable Dawuni, there would be no Africa Rising.
Africa Rising is the conclusion of the Ford Summer Season at the Ford Theatres, a series of music, dance, theatre and film events scheduled from May through October. The final event at the venue will feature music by Dawuni with Ethiopian-influenced ensemble Wondem, led by multi-instrumentalist Dexter Story; Congolese-Belgian singer Marie Daulne of Zap Mama; and DJs Jeremy Sole and Glenn Red.
Dawuni and company curated the event as a way of celebrating the influence and legacy of African music, culture and art, as well as the global African diaspora that has influenced much of the Western world, especially within Los Angeles.
"It's really representative of how this city is in terms of African culture and the various cultures of the African diaspora," explains Dawuni. "I feel that highlighting that and celebrating that literally contributes to creating that kind of community, cohesion and the sense of supporting each other."
That community is one he originally cultivated with his partners Cary Sullivan, Sole and Red at Afro Funké, a club night that began in 2003 as a means to share a fusion of global sounds including Afrobeat, Afro-Latin house, reggae, dub, cumbia, funk and more. Although Afro Funké came to an end as a regular night at Zanzibar in 2013, the promoters have kept its community together with various one-off events at the Levitt Pavilion, the Hammer Museum, and other venues. Africa Rising is the natural evolution of Afro Funké as its community expands.
"Afro Funké, first of all, was an incubation of the concept of a multicultural environment and a multicultural celebration," says Dawuni. "It was a recognition of who each other is and each other's role and using music and art as the means to express it, as well as creating an environment where everybody comes and no one needs to articulate what the concept is. This is an opportunity to bring that experience to a bigger platform, a bigger stage, but with the same objective, really: celebrating the African element in every culture."
Dawuni grew up surrounded by music in a military barracks in Ghana and another in Egypt, where his father worked as a cook stationed with United Nations peacekeeping forces. It was there that a military band known as the Hot Barrels performed a number of cover songs, including a few from Bob Marley that resonated with a young Dawuni and convinced him to use music as a vessel to connect Africa with the rest of the world.
That vessel later took the form of a music career that currently spans six albums, a Grammy nomination and years of work as a humanitarian and activist of various social causes. In 2012, he was appointed as a UN Global Ambassador by the UN Foundation's Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. He was also appointed as the Tourism and Cultural Ambassador of Ghana and World Ambassador for the Musicians Union of Ghana in the same year.
"For me, activism is something that is part of all of us," he says. "Wherever you are, you have the ability and the opportunity to make a difference, be it a small or big part. If we all take those increments of transformation, then we can pick up any idea and transform it into something bigger."
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Dawuni considers Afro Funké and Africa Rising as part of his activist work, in that he and his three co-promoters use the event to build a community of trust, love and respect.
"I feel that this provides an outlet to what is important, which is the human connection that makes a community," he says. "This provides a support for the African diaspora to build that, despite all the difficulties that are going on. We're here to lend our support and also make sure that the forces of justice prevail and also, in the long run, peace and respect for each other prevails.
"Everybody that really supports culture, everybody that really supports community, everybody that really supports playing, having fun, who enjoys amazing music ... it's a day for them to head down to the Ford to be part of this."
Africa Rising happens this Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Ford Theatres with Rocky Dawuni, Dexter Story & Wondem, Maria Daulne, Jeremy Sole, and Glenn Red plus special surprise guests. Tickets and more info.