Award-winning US musician PJ Morton launches Africa tour album

US musician PJ Morton during a 2022 performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Last year, 5-time Grammy Award US musician, PJ Morton travelled to four African cities to immerse himself in the continent’s soundscapes and cultures while using those influences to write and record an album.

“I travelled to Africa to make this album and I wanted to do so over a trip of one month,” reveals Morton during a conversation via a Zoom on Tuesday this week just hours before taking to the stage in Toronto, Canada as keyboardist with the internationally renowned pop band, Maroon 5.

“We started in Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa, then Lagos, Nigeria, Accra, Ghana and completed the trip in Cairo, Egypt,” says the 43-year-old musician. Cape Town to Cairo, which contains nine songs was released on June 13, 2024 on his label, Morton Records, and is his ninth solo studio album, aside from his duties with Maroon 5.

This was the first time that the artist who was given the name Paul Jr “PJ” as a child (his dad Bishop Paul Morton is a Baptist pastor and singer) was visiting “where my descendants came from”. His objective was to show the world the diverse styles of music in Africa.

“Sometimes as Americans when we look at Africa, some people think every sound is Afrobeats and they don’t know about amapiano or highlife. I was happy to be educated so that I can inform other people that what works in Nigeria may not work in Ghana or it may not work in South Africa,” he affirms.

The experience also provided an appreciation of the connections that exist between different music genres, for instance, highlife music in Ghana has strong echoes of the music of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.

“The way they play those horns and stuff reminds me of home,” says Morton.

Even though Nairobi was not on his African itinerary, the track All the Dreamers on his new album contains a sample from Mwaki, a song by Kenyan electronic music artist Sofiya Nzau. During the interview, he breaks the news that he will perform at The Carnivore in Nairobi on September 15, 2024.

PJ Morton has worked with many of the biggest names in the music business, notably Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Jon Batiste, Nas, Lil Wayne and Jill Scott. His new album includes collaborations with African musicians, Made Kuti (grandson of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti) Fireboy DML, and Asa, all from Nigeria and South African trumpet player Ndabo Zulu and Soweto Spiritual Singers.

He started to write the uplifting Count on Me while in South Africa and when he got to Nigeria, it was among the songs he shared with Fireboy DML.

“He immediately started writing his verse and was done in about 20 minutes, then recorded it straight away,” says PJ Morton.

The funky opening track Smoke and Mirrors which starts with the lyric “you lied to me” is partly a response to the portrayal of Africa in the Western world.

“I never hear much being said about the beauty of Africa and I just felt that I had been lied to and that had been intentional.”

He adds, “We landed in Nigeria on Fela’s birthday, and I felt that was a sign because it was the last day of 'Felabration', the annual festival in his honour,” recalls PJ Morton. He met Fela’s son, Femi, his son, Made, the dancers and the horn players whose sound again reminded him of the music of New Orleans.

“We went in to the studio the next day and I was just inspired and so Smoke and Mirrors and All the Dreamers were written and recorded all on the same day.”

Who You Are, which features Made Kuti, has a strong Afrobeat vibe with the big horns and a funky soulful rhythm. “People are so focused on material things, and likes and follows, everyone wants to be a superstar, without really knowing who they are. Being an African American coming back to Africa do I really know who I am?” He asks.

Please Be Good is produced by Nigerian producer P. Priime who has created songs for among others Burna Boy, CKay, Davido, and Wizkid while Morton wrote the amapiano influenced Thank you on the first day in the studio in Cape Town, to express his feelings of gratitude for making the trip to Africa a reality.

I found you is inspired by Morton’s idol Stevie Wonder whose music has shaped the way he writes his own songs.

“Stevie owns a radio station in California and he just put that song on rotation after he listened to the album. It means so much that the person who has influenced me so much is right there supporting.”

Details of PJ Morgan and Afro Orleans concert in Nairobi on September 15, 2024 are available on his official website and social media pages.

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