By: Dream Chimney

The following interview was conducted on June 22, 2024

Bosq Ben Woods is the DJ, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Bosq. He is about to drop his new ‘No Be Today’ which has been lovingly made with longtime collaborator and respected friend, Kaleta. The album blends afro funk, disco vibes, Latin beats, and a host of global flavours transmitted via the lyrics and chants of Kaleta. The album is full to the brim with good vibes, it is highly energetic and deeply authentic. On the week of the release, we get the chance to sit down with Ben to talk in depth about ex Egypt 80 member Kaleta, we breakdown some album tracks, and Bosq lays his political views firmly on the table.

It's great to talk to you about your latest collaboration with Kaleta. How many projects have you guys done together now?

We must have done something like 10 or 12 songs together now but spread out across the whole 10 years I've been releasing original music.

A lot of the time I felt a pressure to make dance floor focused tracks with him since he's so good at it and I always needed to have 4 or 5 of those on each record, so it was super nice to have more space to dive into a wider variety of sounds.

When and how did you and Kaleta first meet?

When I was working on my first record for Ubiquity, a friend, Pablo Yglesias aka DJ Bongohead was super helpful in connecting me to vocalists. He kept telling me, you gotta work with Kaleta! The first thing we did was -Dem Know” which I am still proud of to this day, so we just kept at it after that!

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You both come from vastly different places, yet you share so much common musical grounds. Where are the sweet spots where your tastes, talents, and friendship collide?

Yeah, I mean to be truthful it's more like he lived the musical history that I and so many other DJs and producers of my generation have obsessively tried to learn about for years! We both love Orchestre Poly Ritmo, me coming at it from digging, but him from climbing trees to look into their concerts as a kid in Benin. Fela of course, who he played with for years. All the classic Highlife, Juju music that he played with King Sunny Ade.

We also share an anti-imperialist politics informed by other legends of that time like Thomas Sankara. Our strengths also really suit each other. Kaleta is an endless fountain of musical ideas that come and go quickly without a lot of attachment, whereas I am more meticulous and can't generate even 10% of the musical ideas he can. Together though I can focus on his riffs or lyrics that catch my ear and together we develop them into the fully produced songs they become.

Storytelling through music: Tell us why you feel so strongly about this aspect within your tracks.

I guess for me it’s just feeling like art with a narrative or a position to defend is more powerful, even if it’s not a political track or directly a “story”, humans are narrative creatures and when I’m working on the backing tracks a lot of the times I’m already telling stories to myself about how the instruments are interacting with each other. The most amazing thing is when sometimes Kaleta picks up on that theme before I even express it verbally.

No Be Today for example, tell us about the meaning within this record.

This is like a theme to the record in a way, No Be Today (going to try recount how he explained it to me as best I can) is a saying in Nigeria to be like, this wasn’t luck or didn’t just start, we’ve been at this for a long time with a lot of work. It’s us showcasing all the years we’ve known each other and worked hard together as a complete project.

One of the great storytellers was the pioneer of Afro Beat, the late Fela Kuti. Musician, band leaders, and also political activist. His music was full of messages, in the beginning - of love, and latterly with political statements. How much of an inspiration is his music to you, how much has it impacted the music that you make?

It’s just an incredible impact. His music ties everything together to me, politics, extremely infectious but complex musical ideas, completely danceable, like it’s incredible on all levels. I’m so grateful to be able to work with and learn from Kaleta who played in his band for so many years.

Fela Kuti tried to break down the notion of what Africa is. His track Zombie in fact, was the precursor for Fela’s imprisonment. Pretty powerful stuff, right?

Yeah, I mean that record was a direct shot at the Nigerian military especially the rank-and-file troops (the “zombies” in question) who he ridiculed for mindlessly following orders to suppress their own people. Sounds a lot like our police of today, doesn’t it?

It does…

What would you say is the central message in this album for you and Kaleta?

It’s really varied but I think aside from the literal “messages” in the lyrics of each track, the message I want to get across with it is that it’s still worth it to undertake big works of art that take time and energy and might not conform to what the algorithms and businessmen want artists to be doing. There’s value in spending years bringing your ideas to life! They want us to release a single every month optimized for streaming, but I don’t think timeless art is going to be made that way. I don’t know if this reaches that status either, but it’s worth trying!

The music of Bosq has always been a fusion of styles. Aside from Afro funk, what are the other elements and aspects that make up your sound?

Hip hop is what got me started making music and that’s still in there. Disco, Dancehall, Salsa, Cumbia, Jazz, Caribbean styles especially from Haiti, for sure some elements of house. I love a lot of different music and I think it all leaks in there!

I guess it’s kind of Afro Latin if that is a genre?

Yeah, for sure that’s a genre, a broad one, but a genre, nonetheless. I now try not to call anything I do actually “Afro Latin” since I am neither of those things, but I always make sure to note that influence because I think it’s important that people know the roots, and that people who aren’t as familiar with global music history don’t think I’m inventing something that’s actually more of a continuation of a musical movement.

Didn’t you guys recently do something with the Purple Disco Machine?

It really happened super naturally and casually! PDM reached out on Instagram to me one day and complimented the original version of Wake Up, we talked a bit and he mentioned how it would be cool to do an edit that he could play in his sets at all these bigger festival / stadium / big club venues. I sent him the stems, and he came back not too long after with his version. Between us, his management & Sony we kind of all decided it would be a shame not to release it. Good thing! That’s by far the biggest record either Kaleta or I have had.

The wonderful Kaleta chants in a blend of Yoruba and English. Is he responsible for the lyrical content? Where does he take his inspiration and messaging from?

Yeah, he writes all of the lyrics, and he’s actually singing in Yoruba, Fon, Goun, French & English on this record! Insane right? I think he usually decides based on the feel of the track. Not to speak for him, but what I’ve noticed is that he basically has a constant flow of musical ideas coming out of him. My job is to catch some of them and help mold them into tracks!

Horns, organs, and funky basslines are present throughout. Who plays all of these parts? Are there other musicians on the album you want to shout out?

It’s pretty different track to track. Sometimes I come to Kaleta with an almost complete instrumental, sometimes we build it from the ground up together based on a riff that pops up when we’re recording something else. Generally, we both play lots of percussion, I’m doing keys and baselines, we’re both writing the horn sections. One thing I decided to do on this album a few times was put pride aside and hire someone to replay my looped parts live straight through to up the musicianship. Erlyn Correa & Wilton Bravo, friends in Medellin, replaced my conga & bass parts together in a few songs and really brought them to a higher level. Same with my old friend Yuki Kanesaka in Boston who replaced (and expanded on greatly) my keys on two tracks. Marco Fajardo from Bogotá has also been amazing transcribing my messily sung WhatsApp voice notes into proper horn sections.

One of the songs that really stands out to me is “Meji Meji.” Can you break this song down a little for us. How did you make it, who did what part, what is it about?

This is another Yoruba saying, this one meaning “two heads are better than one” more or less, so talking about our collaborative process and working together in harmony for the greater good in general. If my memory serves, I built up basically the whole track for this one in my studio in Medellin playing percussion, keys, the bass line, programming drums etc. then brought it to Bogota to record with Marco, Jose Miguel Vega & Leon Pardo (Sax, Trombone & Trumpet). Once I had a few songs worth of material I met up with Kaleta in NYC and he did all the guitar and vocals, he also added some more percussion in that session if I recall!

The other absolute bomb is Debiteur Insolvable. What are the lyrics and the story within this super funky track?

This is me wanting to include some of my hip hop roots and some of Kaleta’s Beninese heavy funk roots which we had never really touched on together. The track is in French and talks about “Insolvent Debtors” - people who don’t pay what they owe you! It happens a lot with music as you can imagine, but also structurally in our hyper capitalistic society workers are not being compensated fairly. One of the chants translates to “he who works must eat.”

If we can talk about the album as a whole. I’d love to hear about the initial idea for the album. When did you first approach the concept and what was your original intention with this release?

We had been talking about it for a long time, like ok. how can we have so many tracks together and not an album? People have always asked me about our collaborations too, like “when will you do a whole album!.”

It’s my first time doing a whole record with one vocalist too, and I’d always wanted to explore that. I’ve been thinking a lot about doing a more live set up to tour with as well which makes a lot more sense with just one vocalist!

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What was most important for you to convey through this album?

Just that being eclectic and hard to define is still valuable and exciting even if algorithms reward the opposite. Also, big hard projects are worth doing even without a major label budget.

Do you feel that you were able to accomplish all of your intentions?

Who knows! That’s for the listeners to decide, I guess. Or maybe when I listen back in 2 or 3 years I’ll know.

What are you most proud of with it?

I think the consistently high level across the album, like we didn’t put ANY filler on this record. I think every song is special on here. I see it in friends’ reactions too because everyone has different favorites.

What was the most challenging part of bringing it together?

Mostly the distance, Kaleta lives in NYC and I live in Medellin, Colombia. We work best together in a room, which is not easy to make happen! So, it’s all those logistics and having the patience to wait until our next real session to improve a song instead of using what we already had to finish it at 90% of what it could be. I hope that makes sense haha.

This album marks a lot of years in the music business. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how your creative process has changed. Do you approach anything differently now?

I feel freer now to do whatever comes to mind and not second guess myself too much. I also don’t worry about running out of ideas anymore, like before if I thought of a cool change to throw in a track I’d be hesitant and want to save it to make a whole new other track, now I’ll just throw in whatever I can to each one and believe I’ll have plenty more ideas when I need them next.

What drives you to continue creating music?

It’s like eating for me at this point, like I can’t imagine not doing it and I do actually get physically uncomfortable after too many days of not making music in some way! I also (naively) hang on to the hope that music can change the world, or that at least as my platform grows, I can continue to be vocal about imagining a different world that isn’t organized around policing, exploitation, apartheid, and wars, to a wider audience.

What has been one of your best moments from the past year?

Finally, getting to have my wife and daughter with me on tour this summer has been amazing! I’m answering this before running out to meet them on a hike in the mountains of Switzerland on an off day!

Where do you find the most inspiration when it comes to discovering new music?

Honestly, it’s still a record store for me! I just don’t find any of the digital discovery methods exciting or inspiring. I like the community aspect of record stores, talking to other collectors and DJs, the owners, the inevitable strange characters. It’s also a good way of not falling 100% into each new trend.

What is next for Bosq?

I really want to start performing some of this music in a more live way and not just DJ’ing. So that’s the plan alongside Kaleta. Hopefully coming to a festival or club near you next summer!


Check out the latest release from Bosq.


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