Story by Yolande Brener
Ishmael Osekre arrived in New York with $30, no bank account and no idea how he would pay for his tuition at Columbia University. Originally studying sociology, and later music, he met a mentor who paid for his tuition. Osekre met most of his band, the “Lucky Bastards” at Columbia, all of whom he hangs out with even when they’re not playing.
“I just got lucky,” said Osekre. “I met people who funded me which is why I’m doing what I’m doing because I’m not under pressure to pay all these debts.”
“I think luck is the largest part of it. I know people who are way hungrier about life than I am and smarter. One of the people who helped pay for my tuition was an investment banker. I sent her an email that said I was fundraising and I might have to drop out of university because I didn’t have any money. She said come and talk and that was it.”
Along with the upbeat afro-rock rhythms, Osekre’s lyrics are memorable. Even on first hearing, audience members sing along and get up to dance. A friend’s suggestion to add music to his poetry helped Osekre reach a larger audience. Following the Lucky Bastards’ residencies at St. Nick’s Pub and The Shrine, they will compete in SXSW in 2012. They also have upcoming gigs at the Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn on Jan 19th, at Shea stadium on Jan 20th and at Joe’s Pub on Jan 21st.
“We have this thing called jama when people play on the streets in Ghana,” said Osekre. “It’s a kind of call and response song that we would do when we were watching soccer games or when we were having a little festival. It has that great energy when you make a circle and somebody comes to the center to dance. I wanted people to see that and see how happy we are when we are doing jama back at home.
If Osekre does not always find luck in all aspects of life in America, at least he can write a song about it.
“The song, ‘Why are you here, why do you care,’ is about the different ways people approach each other here from the way they do in my country. In my country people are very direct. Here, it’s like you have to act the opposite of how you feel. If you like someone you have to act like you’re not interested otherwise they won’t be interested in you.”
Another song, My Mama Told Me, tells of how his mother taught him by using proverbs.
“My mom said if you don’t know, don’t act like you know. And even if you know, act like you don’t know, because you might learn something.”