The Cavemen Bring a Message of ‘Love and Highlife’
A woman sings ‘Teach me how to love / Show me how to be’ over and over again through distant reverb. It’s the opening to what was one of the most underrated albums of 2021. As life felt like it was getting back to normal and then crashed again on waves of uncertainty across the globe, The Cavemen from Lagos, Nigeria put out a record that soothes and brings joy, but more importantly, is impossible to not get down to and let go.
The 18-song Love and Highlife makes you dance in the way that classic Ghana highlife or Fela makes you dance. It comforts the same way “Chief Commander” Ebenezer Obey’s voice comforts. It exudes the playfulness of Sir Shina Peters and the uplifting spirituality of the Lijadu Sisters. Brothers Kingsley Okorie (bass) and Benjamin James (vocals/drums) know that they have created a classic record for themselves. There are songs on this Cavemen record that have been with me as I fell in love far from home, that held me when my heart filled, burst, and then left me bereft. This record was there through it all. Jerking me around my room, fueling my hope, making blue skies bluer. I was repeating their mantras and crying tears as “Brother’s Keeper” ended in a maze of streets, as rats scurried beneath my feet a world away.
To be possessed by something beautiful is to listen to this album. It is what it says: Love and Highlife. “New Pammy” is the sound of being drunk on a love so lustful it wills bodies to press themselves together. I have seen it with my own eyes.”Biri” prays for a better world.. How this album manages to be so gentle and yet so forceful at once is its magic. It’s where the mystery lies. The jump-up party drumming and intricate guitar parts — it’s all rhythm that only brothers synchronised in one dream could come up with together. ‘Don’t leave me hanging / don’t leave me chasing’ they sing on “Stranger” as a deluge of backing vocals wash over you. All at once, you know that there is no hope left and then all the hope in the world. It is true uplifting beauty that burns all the way through this record and Benjamin’s falsetto reminds us that love can be a moment or forever. I can only imagine what it would be to see them live.
Photo: Kelly Green.
Finding time to ask them questions while they were on tour across Nigeria to ecstatic crowds wasn’t easy but finally, we got the chance to catch up.
There must have been one moment when you looked into each other’s eyes where you both realised that something special was going on recording this album.
Every single time we made a song there was a setting in motion, a certain dimension attached to each one — every song mattered. Putting this album together was more than creating a body of work. As we looked into each other’s eyes after every song we knew what we had was awesome.
When the album finally comes to an end what do you wish to have left in the listener?
This is an evergreen album and it will live forever. The message is love, to love everybody equally. We are preaching love the way Fela, Bob Marley, Rex Lawson, Osadebe, or Sunny Ade did. We are just doing the same.
How would you define spirituality and how do we need to protect ourselves from bad spirit?
Discovering who you are is spirituality, knowing yourself is spirituality. Pray for bad spirit to not touch you (laughs).
I have seen that your tour across Nigeria seems to take place mostly outdoors. Do you prefer that to a concert hall?
More people can enter when it’s outdoors and the ancestors can really get to fly around (laughs). But there’s not really that much difference, to be honest.
Photo: Kelly Green.
The lyric ‘Teach me how to love / show me how to be’ really stuck with me. Is it wanting to please someone like you never have before? What was the intention of that lyric
The song is not necessarily about romance but if you want to style it that way it’s fine. We are asking the Most High to teach us how to love. We feel that right now human beings don’t know how to love. There is so much hate in the world. We are asking the Universe, the Most High, God or whatever you believe in to teach us how to love because God is the only person who really understands true love.
Has there ever been a lyric from another artist that stuck in your head?
So many, but Bob Marley said ‘If you know your history then you will know where you’re coming from.’ That particular theme has held us together.
What is the true power of dance? What is the magic that it creates in the human soul?
Dancing is just another way to connect to the spiritual. It’s very important because you are understanding your body. That ability to control your body, to mooooooooooove, is very spiritual and I wish that everyone could do it.
“New Pammy” is a track that transforms the atoms in the room. What’s it about?
“New Pammy” is really romantic love and highlife. Musically, we were just trying to be old school and vintage. Telling a girl not to leave us. You know how that goes.
What was the routine when recording the album? Did you invite guests and create a party atmosphere or was it just hard work?
There were no guests because we had to be quick. We made the album in our house and it was hard work. But you know what? A child has been born.
The last track on the record has your mother uplifting the listener across it. You can hear your gospel background all the way through it.
What she said, she said once and left. She prays for us in the song and prays for our peers and then prays for the rest of the world. She helps send out our message. A mother’s prayer is universal, it really is.