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West African-American Band Creates 'Afro-High' in US

  • Nico Colombant

Elikeh leader Togolese Serge Massama Dogo says life is not a paradise in the United States, but that he is still pursuing his musical dreams.

A West African-American band based in Washington is finishing a new album that spans musical genres and speaks to the immigrant experience in the United States. The band is called Elikeh, which means rootedness.

Togolese native Serge Massama Dogo does a microphone check as the multinational and multisound Elikeh band prepares to practice.

The band is about to release a new album called "Between Two Worlds."

Dogo says he is always walking a fine line between his home country and the United States.

"I need to adapt to the culture here, and when I go back to Togo to the culture there, and find a fine line to adapt to the language and the music between two worlds," Dogo said.

Dogo describes the group's musical style -- a blend of Afro-beat, traditional Togolese rhythms, jazz, funk and reggae -- as "Afro-high."

Benin native, drummer Eleuthere Gabin Assouramou, says he likes how the band is open to every musician's input.

"You are from here, you come and you put your idea. If it comes from South Africa, West Africa, America, everywhere, they put everything together and it just works like this. And the groove is so, so good," Assouramou said.

To make ends meet, Assouramou says he relies on his wife, who works, teaches music, referees soccer games and plays in more than half a dozen bands.

He says he gets paid from $20 to several hundred dollars for each performance.

Band leader Dogo works as a security guard so he can pursue his musical dreams.

"It is not a paradise, but we are working with it," Dogo said.

Dogo says life is much more complicated in the United States than it was in Togo, but that there is much better access to musical equipment and recording studios.

"That is the main thing. I have a band that is something I always wanted to do -- write songs, play in front of a public, record songs, and I am doing that. So I think that is my dream and it is happening," Dogo said.

Several Americans are also part of the band, including bass player Scott Aronson, who previously played with an alternative rock band.

Aronson says he feels reinvigorated to be part of a band that mixes different cultures and musical styles. Aronson says he also likes how Dogo sings about political and social issues. Aronson says the underlying messages of political awakening in the band's songs are universal and timeless.

"Staying strong and fighting for what you believe in. Do not just accept what someone tells you or what is being put out there. Find out for yourself and have a voice," Aronson said.

Songs on the new album call on African leaders to curb corruption. They are also intended to inspire immigrants leading difficult lives far from home.

At a recent performance in the Washington area, some in the audience, which comprised a mostly older crowd, danced barefoot to Elikeh's beat.

Band members say that if their new album is successful, they hope to tour the world and cross as many borders as they can.