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By Howard Campbell—–

THOUGH not as famous as his Nigerian counterpart Fela Kuti, singer Victor Essiet is regarded as one of the most influential artists to emerge from Africa in the last 30 years.

On his previous album, One Love, One World, he covered Marley’s Dem Belly Full and Mi Friends (Duppy Conqueror) with Sly and Robbie. For his latest album, Freedom Train, he stays the course that has made him a household name in Africa.

ESSIET… we are the change, so get on board the freedom train

“Freedom Train is a unified sound of consciousness reminding us of where we are and where we are going as a people,” said Essiet in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer. “We are the change, so get on board the freedom train.”

The title track, the album’s first release, has been available digitally since April, and is currently climbing the New York Foundation Radio Network Music Chart. Essiet plans to release more singles as teasers in coming months.

Freedom Train is a comeback of sorts for Essiet. Released in the United States in 2006, One Love, One World was re-released in Africa three years later and is his last full-length studio effort.

That set was partially recorded at Inner Circle’s Circle House studio in Miami with Sly and Robbie adding their touches to the Marley classics. Essiet says the reggae legend and the controversial Fela are heroes in Nigeria.

“They were the voices of our people, they both held their ground and were loved by our people but hated by the establishment in every way,” he explained. “The most vital point in it all is that Bob and Fela were two brothers who defended, supported and championed the same cause — to free the people with music.”

Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti

The fiery Fela not only railed against the corrupt power structure in his country during the 1970s and 1980s. He set the pace for likeminded artistes throughout Africa such as Essiet and South African Lucky Dube.

Constant touring made Essiet famous in Africa but he was still an unknown in Europe and North America until the 1990s. He had admirers, however, like Wailers archivist Roger Steffens, then an editor at The Beat magazine which promoted world beat music.

Steffens, who had never met Essiet, passed on a tape of his songs to Massachusetts independent company Heartbeat Records which compiled them for the 1994 album, Power Of The People: Nigerian Reggae which was released in the United States.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley

It was followed three years later by crucial, released by Mystic Records, a Los Angeles ‘indie’ label and earned Essiet tours of the US and Canada.

Since 2008, Victor Essiet has promoted the Akwa Ibom Discovery Festival in Nigeria which helps to expose African talent.


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