5 Magazine’s residency spotlight features Adam Gibbons and Uhuru Afrika, the incredibly unique Boston club night deeply rooted in the music of Africa and the Diaspora.
“When someone walks in the door, I want them to feel like they could musically be anywhere related to the African continent,” Adam Gibbons says. “From Afrobeat to Kuduro to Afro House – we feature DJs, vocalists, live musicians, visual artists and more that are really pushing the boundaries in their craft and are like-minded in energy and intention.”
In its most rudimentary form, one needs to do little more than roll out two turntables, connect them to the PA and start pouring Pabst to start a “residency”. It’s not difficult to host drinks & DJs. People do it every day and have a fine time of it.
Six years running, Gibbons’ residency, Uhuru Afrika, is a special case study in party planning and promotion. As with the best events in the history of dance music, it’s about expanding minds and then giving people a productive direction afterward. Specifically, it relates to the culture of Africa and its Diaspora, but also providing a home for those of all callings & creeds craving something more meaningful in their lives.
[Previously: In Residence with Housepitality, San Francisco]
“Uhuru Afrika is not just about dancing, performance, music and drinks,” Gibbons says. “We strive to create a communal experience – people coming together, using music as a mode of fellowship and release”
Adam Gibbons discovered the music of Africa “by way of jazz” as a young teenager. “I have always had a strong connection to it – a feeling that is deeply rooted, ancestral and spiritual in nature. The music is so complex and poly-rhythmic and beautiful and it resonates with me.”
He began throwing Afro-themed parties as far back as 2000, but it wasn’t until he attended two notable events – Afrika Hi-Fi and Jump N Funk – that he was inspired to reach for something more and something on the regular. “Uhuru Afrika may have been destined to happen,” he says, “but it was their inspiration that made it happen when it did.”
Gibbons launched Uhuru Afrika in 2008. These were “humble gatherings” of 50 to 75 people, though “within a year we had lines down the street.” Gibbons is resident DJ at present; he shares the spotlight not just with guests and other DJs but a resident “Master Percussionist”, Sidy Maiga. “Sidy is from Bamako, Mali in West Africa and is considered to be one of the top hand percussionists in the world,” Gibbons says. “I am really appreciative of his talent and dedication to music and the mission of Uhuru Afrika.”
And make no mistake: some club nights might have a mission statement, but Uhuru Afrika has a mission. It’s deep in the DNA of a music that often pays tribute to the spirit of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, whose message of political liberation intertwined with his music.
“It is important that we give back when we can,” Gibbons says. Uhuru Afrika tithes 10% of all its profits to NextAid, in addition to having held a dedicated fundraiser for the group during World AIDS Day. “NextAid is a non-profit NGO based in Los Angeles that is making amazing things happen in Africa,” Gibbons says. “They have just finished building their sustainable living community for children orphaned by AIDS in Dennilton, South Africa and launched a new project constructing a micro-enterprise facility with the Kawangware Street Children & Youth Project in the slums of Nairobi. We feel the work they are doing is really important and we are happy to support them.”
As with Fela, this social consciousness is inseparable from Uhuru Afrika’s musical message, though it never overshadows it. Uhuru Afrika’s venues (there have been several) are usually under 400 capacity, and “smaller spaces mean that you are limited in your budget to bring higher-tier talent,” Gibbons says. Nevertheless, Uhuru Afrika’s strong reputation has enabled them to book acts such as Black Coffee (“when he was on the tipping point of the global explosion of South African House Music”), Jose Marquez and Rich Medina (a quarterly resident for two years).
The local scene presents substantial challenges as well. “Boston’s scene is not as competitive because it is smaller than cities like Chicago or NYC,” Gibbons says. “Boston is fairly segregated, not only racially in some places, but also in terms of its nightlife. Boston has over 100 universities, colleges and learning centers. The city grows and shifts every year. The positive part? We have some of the most forward thinking creative young minds. The negative part? This dynamic also brings some serious young mainstream partiers that enjoy a steady diet of Pop, Top 40, Hip Hop and so on. Clubs want to cater to that format because it is easy. This pushes House Music promoters underground. Our market has always been disenfranchised and we have had to be creative in our venue choices, or in ways to ensure that we can keep a venue happy with their choice of working with us.
“Because of this, if you are at a House party in Boston, the community is open and welcoming – like ‘Aw, you are one of us!’
“I will say that House Music parties are the one place in Boston where the lines between race, gender, socio-economic status are blurred. It is all family and all welcoming.”