9 November 2022

Meet The Cavemen., the band of brothers bringing West African highlife to the world

HUNGER speaks to the Nigerian duo to discuss their adoration for highlife, love for live instrumentation and pursuing their dreams together as brothers.

Kingsley Okirie and his brother, Benjamin James, better known as The Cavemen. are bringing the sounds of highlife to a global audience. Highlife, a beloved West African genre that originated in the 1870s, fuses indigenous rhythms with Western influences and jazz, rock and funk elements. The Lagos natives are at the forefront of the genre’s modern renaissance, providing a modern spin with pop aesthetics – without sacrificing the traditional aspects fans of the genre have come to love. 

The band was formed four years ago, with the duo releasing their first single two years later in 2020, followed by their debut album, Roots, which arrived in the same year. The record received critical acclaim due to the group’s expansion on the blueprint of highlife and, just a year later, The Caveman. triumphantly returned with their sophomore album, Love and Highlife. The project saw the band of brothers further develop their unique sound, producing a project that’s just as heartfelt as it is vibrantly carefree. Fast forward to 2022, and The Cavemen. are fresh off the back of a six-date European tour, which included a sold-out show at London’s Village Underground. As their stature continues to grow, The Cavemen. have cemented themselves as one of Nigeria’s most naturally talented exports. Here, HUNGER catches up with the band to discuss what highlife means to them, the Nigerian music scene and brotherhood.

How would you describe your current creative process?

Benjamin: Our current creative process, for me, is exciting because it involves us being collaborative with lots of different producers and musicians. And from creating with these amazing people, we’ve become great friends with them. So it’s a combination of friendship and good collaboration.

Kingsley: You know, we get so inspired from the hustle: from the shows, from the tour, from moving around. And now we’re coming back home [to Nigeria]. We make most of our music at home. We do a lot of writing from my bedroom. For most of our classics, we recorded that way.

How would you say life has changed since the release of your debut album, Roots?

Benjamin: Since the release of Roots, life has changed in many ways. There is more fulfilment and more success in both the physical and the spiritual realms. Since the release of that album, all we’ve talked about is growth: growing more and getting better! The album’s release changed how we work because we just wanted to work more even after the album dropped. We’re always thinking, what’s next? The album was definitely a life changer.

Kingsley: Now we’ve been able to face the fear of releasing the first project and we’ve been able to see how people feel about it, life has definitely changed. I know our value!

What are your opinions on the current Nigerian music scene and the popularity it’s gaining?

Benjamin: Nigerian music has always been big, back home and abroad. I remember I went to a show in London a few weeks ago, and they were playing all Nigerian music from the early 90s to the early 00s, and everybody there was singing these songs. So Nigerian music has always been big. And now it’s even bigger and global, which, to be honest, isn’t a surprise because it’s something that I’ve always seen coming. I mean, look at the music we do. Look at the music that all the other artists do! It’s great music – how can it not be accepted by the world? How can it not be popular? How can it not be big? It’s Amazing.

Kingsley: African music is becoming so magnetic that the world cannot ignore it. So, I’m happy to see that and I feel like it’ll keep getting bigger.

What is it about highlife that you both resonate with?

Benjamin: If we’re relating to how big the scene is right now, highlife has always been a mother general. Highlife birthed afrobeats, jazz and music across west Africa. So, it resonates well with us because it’s what we grew up listening to; it’s ancestral. It’s always been in everybody’s soul and ours. It’s in our blood and our veins.

Kingsley: Highlife is an African experiment. I care about that a lot. Every time I get the opportunity to play, I remind people I must be myself and I’m giving the world what the world needs.

Creative direction - Wavy The Creator, Photographer - Bolaji Odukoya, Stylist - h.i.g.h.r.o.l.l.e.r

What does highlife mean to you?

Benjamin: For me, it means spreading the love because it’s one of the genres I know that speaks the truth. That is extremely rare these days. People don’t talk about what’s going on around them. So to me, that’s what it means – the truth.

What is your earliest musical memory?

Kingsley: When we used to break the chairs at home! We had an uncle that played the drums in church. I’d come back home and, you know, break all the chairs. That was where we got our first inclination to actually be musicians.

Benjamin: My earliest memory was with the drums, that is what I remember – playing with drums. Not like an actual drum set, but using two spoons as drumsticks and many buckets as the drums. I remember our parents used to change buckets every week just because of how we would break them.

What drew you to playing live instruments?

Kingsley: Okay, so when I started playing bass guitar, I was attracted to the skill of playing. I guess I just wanted to be a bass player. There was no more perfect instrument for me. I got my first bass in 2012. Then I got my first Fender bass at the end of 2017. I remember I used all my money at the time to get that bass. I now have the [American Vintage II] seafoam green Jazz Bass. It’s such a beautiful instrument. The feel of it is so lovely. I look forward to sharing a whole lifetime with the bass. I know it can take me to 60 and 70.

What would you say has been the most surreal moment in your career so far?

Benjamin: There are many surreal moments! I couldn’t pick one because we’ve done a lot that is very significant to us, so honestly can’t answer that.

Kingsley: Yeah, I mean, every day of my career is a surreal moment, because I never know what to expect. There have been many surreal moments. We just concluded a European tour and that alone is so surreal – because going to countries we’ve never imagined going to and playing our music for the people there is such a blessing.

[Filming our Fender Session] was so surreal because from where I came from, you know, we had dreams, but we didn’t know some of them could be crystallised. That video is such a milestone. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. The platform that Fender gave us there was so surreal. Everybody was nice. Everybody appreciated what happened there that day.

Have you found it challenging to navigate the music industry so far?

Benjamin: The music industry has its own challenging times and moments, but so far, it’s been a smooth ride. There have been a few bumps along the road that I won’t mention, but overall it’s been smooth! We’re just four years old as The Cavemen. and we’ve got this far. We have gone from making the album’s in our room to touring Europe and Nigeria, so that’s a pretty big deal.

What’s your favourite song to perform?

Kingsley: Hard to pick! But ‘Anita’ stands out to me.

How would you describe your live shows?

Benjamin: I would describe our live shows as healing. Whenever we perform our songs, I feel healed myself, and people have told me that they felt healed by the music that’s been given from the most high. So I would describe our live shows as healing, as an experience and greatness!

Who is one act you’d both love to collaborate with?

Benjamin: I’m going to go with Asa on this one! I mean, we’ve both collaborated with many artists and we’ve got collaborations in the works with many acts, but Asa is someone we’ve always looked up to and love dearly.

Kingsley: Khruangbin! They have a sound, you know? It’s hard to get a sound these days. I think anywhere you hear their sound, you know it’s them. And The Cavemen. were inspired by musicians who had their own sound and atmosphere. Their music is therapeutic.

What is the goal for The Cavemen.?

Kingsley: I mean, to keep making good music, to make good money, to help the world and to keep getting good at all we’re doing.

Benjamin: The goal for The Cavemen. is more greatness. That’s all I have to say.

  • Writer Chris Saunders

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