Benin City
So You Say

A few weeks ago, we had the good fortune to come across Benin City’s Fire in the Park  and we immediately had to write a review. With a blend of hip-hop, jazz, electro, spoken word poetry and a tapestry of themes emerging from the band’s home city, London, our listeners were given a real musical treat.

After the post, The Music Ninja was able to sit down with Josh Idehen (vocals) and Tom Leaper (Tenor Sax) in order to get an inside look at who the band is and how they make their music.

TMN: First off, thanks so much for the album and for sitting down with the Music Ninja, even virtually. Our readers will be excited to get an intimate look at the band and your comments about how you and Fires in the Park came to fruition.

TMN: I guess I’ll start with a question I like asking bands–what’s the significance of the name “Benin City”?

Tom: I think it’s best if Josh takes this one!

Josh: its mine and my parents’ hometown; its history is intertwined with Britain’s colonial misadventures, which a lot of Britons I’ve encountered don’t know much about, which is unfortunate. Also, the name sounded cool, I have a thing for places and there was no better alternative.

TMN: The first time through Fires in the Park, I was struck by just how much variety was in the album. There was obviously the hip hop influence, the drum and bass, the electro, the jazz touches, and more–all fitting together seamlessly. I found myself wondering who your sources of inspiration were as a group?

Tom: We draw inspiration from all over. Personally I’m big in to electronic music, jazz, soul, GOOD pop, classical, film scores. All sorts really. When it came to making the album it was off the back of releasing “Baby” so we had a good idea of how we wanted it to sound. Then we sat down and talked through everything that we love listening to whether it be about the songs themselves, the harmony, the melody, the lyrics, the production, the arrangements… Then we narrowed it down to a core list of influences. Although the album is still pretty eclectic, this list stopped us going too far in any one direction and helped the album hang together as a whole.

Josh: Quite diverse- I’m the official movie soundtrack loving, left-field hip hop jamming, eclectic dude. Theo and Tom both love and play Jazz, but while Theo is into his dubstep and DNB, Tom loves his electro funk and acid/broken beat Jazz. It took a while but we managed to work them all into the album into something we thought was cohesive.

 TMN: This one is for Josh: Lyrically, there are a couple of themes I noted in Fires in the Park: the sort of Carpe Diem feel to “People Will Say,” the love songs, the social commentary about living in poverty, friendship, an ode to London. Did you set out looking to explore those themes lyrically, or did you discover those themes as you went?

Josh: Love and relationships have been reoccurring themes in my work as a spoken word artist, and I have a love/hate thing with London which colours most of what I do. The social commentary aspect came in as a result of being poor: its amazing what having no money does for your perspective and sense of humour.

TMN: Our readers love to hear about the creative process that bands employ to create their music. What does your creative process look like? Do you start with melody and then move to lyrics–or is it the other way around?

Tom: We started out as a “jam” band and would just start improvising and see what happened. This used to work for the most part but we wanted to make our music more sophisticated so we started to work on ideas at home and then bring them round to my make shift studio at my flat in Brixton, South London. Theo is a drum and bass producer too and he came along with some beats and some really beautiful soundscapes. Josh is full of great ideas and would come round and sing them at me and we’d work through them together and build the track up that way. I was formally trained in composition, so I’d generally come with something fully arranged for Josh to do his thing over. Once we’d written the tracks we enlisted the help of Marc Pell, who’d worked with us on our tracks “Baby” and “Accelerate” that we released last year. We worked really closely with him on both those tracks and the album which we really valued I think. Marc is great!

Josh: With the album, the first thing we did was make a list of our fave songs. We whittled the list down to ten songs, and that provided an anchor for all our ideas. We had to bring at least two ideas each, in whatever shape: my ideas were usually a basic bass and melody with lyrics down, whereas Theo and Tom had whole instrumentals arranged. We worked with Marc Pell, (from Micachu and the Shapes) who co-produced and mixed, and the prevailing rule was all ideas would be tried out once, no matter how stupid sounding. It was fun.

TMN: One of my favorite moments in the album is the track “This is London pt. 2.” I thought the idea of speaking to London with all the intensity of a lover was just brilliant. Who is the female poet there?

Tom: That’s Deanna Roger. The instrumental is a track of mine and when Josh introduced the idea of getting a guest I wasn’t too sure. I love what Josh does and balancing out two verses like that between two poets could be really tricky. I hadn’t met Deanna at this point but when I heard her demo for the verse I was blown away. She floats over the top of the track and creates some beautiful images. Josh’s verse on the other hand is more gritty and digs in a lot more rhythmically which sets off Deanna’s style really well. It reflects the duality of London which is what the track is all about really. After it was mastered that track came to life even more so. It’s become, if I’m allowed to say this, one of my favourites.

Josh: She is Deanna Rodger, a wicked poet and the butterfly in our “Baby” vid.

TMN: And finally tours: what’s the plan for “Benin City?” Can we look forward to seeing some live shows in the states?

Josh: Definitely on the cards that. We’re talking to a few peeps about it so hopefully you’ll hear something soon 😉



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