As a band that relied almost exclusively on playing live shows around Edmonton for several years, Melafrique, like many local artists, had to adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and shift its focus to digital interactions and performances instead.
Earlier this month, the band has released its first single, “Not Alone,” and is currently working on another one it is planning to release early this summer. This Friday, Melafrique will also be doing a livestream on The Commudio at 7 p.m. We talked to band members Leshan Masikonte and Riwo Egor about how the band was founded, how it’s adapted and about releasing music during the pandemic.
What brought you together as a band?
Leshan Masikonte: Initially, it used to be just Riwo and me, the two of us. And later we met Ary during a performance and we asked him to join our group… Melafrique was formed for the first time as a band, to participate in a competition called Compete With The Beat back in 2016, which we won….We came up with the name eventually. It means “Melanin from Africa.”
Riwo Egor: We are each from different parts of Africa, and Steven is from Jamaica.
*Currently, Melafrique consists of six members — Leshan Masikonte, Riwo Egor, Adanna Onuekwusi, Enoch Attey, Aristóteles Jorge Canga and Steven Atkins.
What style of music do you play?
RE: Our style, we call it Afro-fusion, because we play different genres, with an African twist to it most of the time. We do a lot of R&B, neo soul, a little bit of jazz and pop music, and then we add reggae styles or Afrobeats or other African styles of music to those genres.
Each of our countries has very different styles of music. And we each had very different experiences in life and different ways we view the world, and we try to put that in our writing and in our music as well. And the goal is to reach as many people as we can, since we try to make our music relatable to as many people as it’s possible. That is the goal — so that anyone listening to our music, can relate to it in some form.
What inspired you to create “Not Alone”?
RE: Lechan created a melody and guitar, and I wrote the lyrics. At the time, we were both going through a lot of stress with school. And I guess the song was born out of that struggle and frustration, and just wanting to feel like I wasn’t alone and wanting to have support in some way. So that’s what the song is talking about. It talks about the importance of sharing your story and not suffering alone, essentially…Because you never know who could be inspired by your story. You never know who is going through the same thing.
While “Not Alone” was produced before COVID-19, the release of the song was, no doubt, timely — as this is the time when many of us have spent our time in isolation and disconnected from many aspects of social interactions. Did you plan this in any way?
RE: It was really interesting how this happened, because “Not Alone” wasn’t supposed to be our first release, but then we started thinking about it, and about what this isolation would mean to people.
And so it just felt right to release it at this time. That is definitely an interpretation that we thought about, because we wanted to give people a gift at this time. Since isolation means a lot of things to different people. And I think it’s an angle that people think about, and something that we actually hoped people would resonate with.
In light of this, what response have you seen so far?
LM: The reception has been amazing, because everyone who listened to it, they just loved the message, it resonated with them. And that’s exactly what we were hoping for. So for our future releases, I think we will be looking more into how people feel about music, as opposed to numbers and getting a lot of followers… and more into inspiring people and actually having real relationships with the people who listen to our music.
As a band that relied almost exclusively on live performances, how have you been adjusting to the pandemic and staying connected to the community?
LM: We’ve had to get into the live streaming and more social media and online presence, as opposed to what we’re used to, which is the live performances. It had the biggest impact on us financially — because, as a group, we’re very dependent on the funds coming from performing live. We were ready to perform different shows in the summer and fall. But now, everything is very unsteady. So we’ve had to move online and that’s why now we’re releasing more music. And that in itself has been a blessing… So the plan is to keep releasing, keep promoting, keep our online presence going and keep live streaming.
RE: So there are six of us in the band, and three of us live together. With just the three of us living together, it’s not been as productive as we’d like it to be. It’s been a learning curve because it’s not something we typically do — like, we never really did live streaming. We hope to do more throughout the summer. So far it’s been a learning experience, and trying to incorporate the whole band as opposed to just the three of us.
LM: Three of us (me, Adanna and Riwo) live together so we have practiced together and done a livestream on our page before. With the others, we’ve kept in contact and have been sharing musical ideas and new songs. It’s been a bit tough being away, but we still communicate and keep each other accountable and going.
Where can the viewers see your next livestream?
LM: This Friday, we’ll be on The Commudio. It’s a live streaming show that’s been going on ever since the pandemic began. So they’ve been really helping musicians in Edmonton to have that type of live performance atmosphere that they’re used to.
What do you love about Edmonton’s music community?