Image credit © 2018 Hope Cartmell

Count Kujo are a youthful 9 piece Afro-Jazz band based in Brighton, brought together through a shared love of Jazz, cultural diversity and expressionism. Led by a Griot descendent of the Jamaican Maroons, the music is intertwined with old West-African narratives and post-colonial narratives closer to home.

Founded in December 2015, Count Kujo was born from the inspirational tenets of the Asante/Akan symbolic wisdom, ‘Unity Through Diversity’. From this foundation, the band has developed an understanding of their musical direction, fusing together musical traditions and narratives from around the world, with a particular focus on ‘Pan-African Traditionalism’. 

All art has a story. It communicates a narrative to us through the abstracted concept. Count Kujo’s narrative starts with Queen Nanny of the Maroons. Queen Nanny is an ancestor to the band leader, Max Ayinde. Her leadership, the story of survival and the preservation of the African culture lay the foundation for Count Kujo and produce the artistic focus upon pre and post-colonial diaspora history and culture.

The name Count Kujo is derived in part from Queen Nanny’s brother, Captain Cudjoe to call upon the their name and deeds, their strength and resilience every time the name is spoken or a note is played. Count is derived in part from Count Bassie, one of the greatest big band leaders in Jazz, and also from Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari to invoke the mysticism and power of Rastafari as a spiritual basis for reflecting on pre-colonial African culture.

The band was inspired by the emergence of Kamasi Washington in 2015, which proved to be the catalyst for the creation of Count Kujo. Initially, Count Kujo attempted to fuse Jazz with Roots Reggae, Hip Hop, RnB and Funk. Over time this blend has grown to include many other forms such as Afrobeat, Highlife and Latin as well as delving deeper into the many forms of Jazz such as Bebop, Hard Bop and Latin Jazz.

With such a particular focus on Jazz comes questions over validity. Jazz is a form of music that was, is and maybe always will be incredibly contentious in how it is defined and how the members of its diverse community define ‘valid’ technique and approach. Some traditionalists would not want to see Jazz diversify beyond the works of Duke Ellington, some modernists want to introduce the concepts of modern music such as grime to reach an increasingly alienated young audience. 
Count Kujo firmly believe that Jazz, like the creator – is formless. 

All interpretations are valid, but the key to success and fulfilment is respect, according to Count Kujo. Rather than pose the question, ‘Is this valid’, they ask ‘Does this respect the art form and narrative it comes from’. 

To that affect, the band seeks out ways of drawing from traditional West-African musical forms to create a new interpretation of Jazz that is focused on the maintenance and respect of musical forms. Both to voice the dissonant half of history between ‘The Now’ and Pre-Colonial history, and to pass on a legacy – a more comprehensive map of musical forms for generations to come.
Image credit © 2018 Hope Cartmell

Music and composition is viewed as a conversation within Count Kujo. A conversation between the band and a conversation between the band and the audience. On a more conceptual level, every horn, every stroke on a drum, every note is an Abeng horn of traditional Maroon and West African culture, conversing with the ancestors in call and response, the response is the embodiment of the Ancestors speaking through us in moments of inspiration and passion.

 Their first full album Cognitive Dissonance, including the singles Maiysha (orig. by M.Davis) and Akokoduro Akoma is a mixture of RnB, Funk, Afrobeat, Jazz and Neo Soul delivered in a refreshingly original manner. A mixture between old and new production values along with arrangement techniques makes up an album that pays homage to J Dilla along with Queen Nanny and Captain Cudjoe through interpolating the old with the new. This created the foundation for the bands tag line – ‘Young Blood, Old Stories’. Overall the album seeks to probe the current socio-political climate. A world fast developing tendencies of fascism, overt discrimination and abuse, whilst maintaining the conflicting belief that the ‘Developed World’ somehow has merited, through its own sweat and labour, its position of privilege and consequently, a sense of moral superiority.

Their second album, Kujo In Dub explores the soundscapes of Roots Reggae and Dub through Nyabinghi, chanting, Tommy McCook style horns and traditional production values. This provides the most bass heavy and raw sound of Count Kujo, demonstrating a classic rub a dub streak to the more jazzy background. With the head cornerstone being a version of Barry Brown’s killer sound Give Thanks + Praise, this album was inspired most by the works of artists such as Barry Brown and one of biggest influences of musical arrangement and integrity on the band, the truly prophetic and eternally legendary Yabby You. This album is the spiritual embodiment of the beating heart of Count Kujo.

Image credit © 2018 Hope Cartmell

Count Kujo’s next release was the Afrobeat single M.I.C. Inspired from the earth up by the raw and politically charged works of the original Black President Fela A. Kuti, this single is about raising awareness of the ‘Developed Worlds’ reliance upon the Military Industrial Complex. The track vocals chant it down in Patois claiming ‘Life is a thing that money can buy, so the rich shall live and the poor can dead’. The biggest issue that politicians ignore in the modern world above all else is the developed worlds culpability in allowing corporations to profit from conflict and the death of the poor and dispossessed in resource rich nations. Our lifestyle in the ‘West’ is based off allowing our own societies inequality because the luxuries and privileges subsidised by further inequality in the world. It seemed like the sort of song that Fela would write were he alive today.

The latest single released by Count Kujo was a reinvention of a beautiful Stevie Wonder song, It Aint No Use. After listening to copious amounts of Reuben Wilson’s Love Bug and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Fulfingness First Finale’, something clicked. Why not approach a classic Stevie Wonder track, with his latin and jazz influences and apply an Organ centred Latin Bossa Bop arrangement to it? That’s exactly what happened. This single created a foundation for the upcoming album Pain + Suffering (Feb 2019), using a combination of Latin Jazz with 1970’s style RnB and Funk inflections. Although no longer in its infancy, Count Kujo continues to grow by developing more broad and diverse compositions reflecting the profound belief that the shape of music to come will be grounded in our ancestral past.

©2019 Count Kujo