Extraordinary funk is cool man, Ismaila


Born in Sierra Leone and singing tunes seeped in roots with combos of funk, blues and reggae thrown into the pot and in his words “I kinda get folky when I throw in acoustics”, is cool dude, Ismaila.

Ismaila is a natural born showman with a showbiz persona going way, way back to his early growing years in Sierra Leone. Coming from comparatively well to do parents who owned a respectable food shop selling the stable diet of their neighbourhood, they were also active in helping educate disadvantage children within their community. Often his extended family would enjoy the carnival atmosphere of street music, festivals and all the colourful dance bands around town, which of course impressed upon his young mind. 

His parents were smart, kind and understood children needed a decent education, so they sent him off to an English boarding school during his formative years, and it was during this time that Ismaila discovered the guitar and taught himself.

This also peaked his interest in theatre and TV, which saw him portray a football player in the popular TV series A Touch of Frost that led him to appear in many other series as well as performing on the stage.

However, his passion for music was taking a hold and after gigging in his indie band called The Rhythm Method around the country, he decided to focus on his writing and music instead.

Luckily for us, he’s now lived in Australia for the past 20 years, steadily honing his song writing, music, and repertoire and gigging intermittently at various venues. But all this is about to change, as Ismaila is now ready to skyrocket. 

Says Ismaila on his genre, “I call my songs ‘throwback’, as they go back to the old days when people wrote songs that gave you scope to stretch and change them. Songs you can play on the ukulele or piano. Songs you can pump up and sing along to. I like all those Marley standards, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder and lots of Carlos Santana tunes, cause I’m a funky blues player. 

“I write a lot of originals and the one you heard today called Secrets, is my version of an African pop song with strong beats about ‘love gone wrong’.

Visions of You is about a woman I was hoping to date. She had said to me if you want to date me then you have to write me a song, so I wrote two verses and two choruses and it’s probably the shortest song in the world,” he laughs. 

“My other song is a bluesy acoustic number called Keep your Love Alive. It’s about being satisfied, keeping your love alive, dancing in the streets and being happy and contented.”

Aspects of love seem to be a theme for Ismaila and it’s no doubt this theme will reflect in his future project of recording an acoustic album. 

Music is Ismaila’s refuge and counsellor and a way to disappear from the world. When writing, he’s very passionate and can get locked into intense bouts of creativity.

Over the years he’s toured Papua New Guinea with his band and gigged in Queensland. 

He now has a regular residency at beach 162 in Frankston and the day I caught up with him he was playing his Fender Nashville Telecaster and a cool Matom Acoustic. His foot pedals were a line 6 HD 500 and a boss GT 3. The combination of his acoustic, originals and standards with some played to backing tracks recorded from the ground up by keyboards/ drummer Mark Mingu, created a hip, rock fuelled, bluesy, funked up performance.

I mean the dude was getting encores and wasn’t allowed to stop!

Ismaila is engaging with a lovely approach and captivates his audience with stories, jokes and tales in between his song sets. But be aware though, you won’t be able to sit still because his cool funk will get you up dancing in the blink of an eye.

Ismaila is back at beach 162, 160-162 Beach Street, Frankston on Sunday 16 August.

First published in Mint Magazine – July 2015

Author: Terri Lee Fatouros

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