Birmingham church to host world music premiere

Sacred Funk Quartet announce debut album with live premiere in Birmingham.

Sacred Funk Quartet, a new all-star musical project featuring two-time Grammy Award-winning percussionist Lekan Babalola and acclaimed British clarinettist Kate Luxmoore, has announced their debut album, Tales of Orisa, will be released via Bandcamp on Wednesday 1st May.

The four-piece collective will perform a live premiere of the nine-track album – also featuring the exceptional talents of guitarist Reuben Reynolds and bassist Josh Vadiveloo – in full at St Mary’s Parish Church in Handsworth – known as the Cathedral of the Industrial Revolution – on Friday 23rd February.

At the full album performance in Birmingham , the band will be joined by special guest, Gboyega Adelaja – a former keyboard player with the Hugh Masekela Ojah Band and George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic, and collaborator with renowned Nigerian musicians including Anikulapo Kuti and T Mac.

Beginning with an enchanting exploration of ancient Orisa music from the Yorùbá people of West Africa, the evening will also explore the vibrant rhythms of the Highlife genre, which blends Western jazz melodies and structures with Ghanaian and Nigerian dance band styles and traditions.

A key strand of work by the Yorùbá Contemporary Arts Trust led by Lekan Babalola, the Sacred Funk Quartet evolved following a commission by the University of Birmingham in 2021.

Part of a music series involving the university’s collection of West African artefacts and a concert at the Bramhall Building, the project led to live performances with BMAG at Grade I-listed Jacobean North Birmingham house, Aston Hall, and the home of industrialist Matthew Boulton – Soho House

Underpinning a commitment to exploring and celebrating the diverse musical traditions of the African diaspora, YCAT was founded in 1995 as a charitable organization sharing and maintaining the integrity and relevance of Yorùbá arts and culture in wider society – within local communities, both in the UK and overseas.

In 2023, Lekan Babalola published the Sacred Art of Ofu Ida book, accompanied by photographic plates and prints from acclaimed photographer Dr Vanley Burke, celebrating the signs of traditional beliefs and practices, and the binary writing system practised by the Yoruba people West African and the African Diaspora.

Kate Luxmoore, a clarinettist and composer/arranger whose musical journey has spanned different genres and styles of playing from classical to folk, afrobeat and jazz, underlined the importance of producing the Tales of Orisa album and said: “This work has come about after years of collaboration with percussionist Lekan Babalola and it is not a coincidence that it is rooted in the Orisa music of the Yoruba people.

“This ancient music relates to the Yoruba ‘pantheon’ and a way of life celebrated in Cuba, Brazil and other parts of the New World.”

Kate has performed and toured across the UK, Europe and Africa and recorded in America and Cuba and has had the privilege of working with artists such as Tony Allen, Lucky Ranku, Herlin Riley and folk artists such as Fairport Convention, Jackie MckShee and Anna Ryder.

She composes for her own ensemble The Kate Luxmoore Group, debuting her first album The Grove at The Royal Festival Hall, London and releasing an EP As I Walked in 2018, recorded in New Orleans and her latest album Unquiet Grave in 2019, featuring Tony Allen on Drums. She is now working on her next album rooted in English folk songs and is planning a UK tour for 2024.

Lekan Babalola is a two-time Grammy Award-winning musician, film director and conceptual artist with over 40 years in the arts. He has worked with many prestigious names in the music industry. Awarded his first Grammy in 2006 for performances on the late Ali Farka Toure’s album ‘In the Heart of the Moon’, he was awarded a second at the 49th Grammy Awards in 2008 for his work on the American jazz artist Cassandra Wilson’s album Loverly.

In 1980 he came to Britain and as his skills as a master percussionist grew was invited to join Gasper Lawal in 1982. He continued his career where he performed with the likes of Ernest Ranglin, Branford Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson. Also performed with African Jazz All Stars, Roy Ayers, Kate Luxmoore Group, Tony Allen, KLLB Band, Axelle Red, Pinse Saul, Queen Salawa Abeni, Jean Toussaint.

Lekan has developed his band Lekan Babalola and The Afrobeat Messengers and is a touring musician with Atomic Bomb – The Music of William Onyeabor, under David Byrne’s Luaka Bop Record label.

Tales of Orisa will be released on Wednesday 1st May via Bandcamp. Tickets for the event at St Mary’s Church are available from Eventbrite – pay as you feel, £1 minimum.