We sat down for a chat with Bem Sar, one of Abuja’s few rock artists. A super talented guitarist and wonderful singer, John Bemdoo Sar, or Bem Sar, is one amazing musician. He’s a a self-taught guitarist and vocalist who actually started his musical career as a rapper! Good thing he switched to rock. Anyway, enough preamble to the interview!
Sam of AudioInferno: How long have you been making music?
I started writing songs in 1995 and recorded my first demo tape (it was tape in those days) in 1996. So that makes it a 20 year stretch.
AI: Oh. Wow. That’s a long time.
Yes. I look forward to getting 10 million for each one of those years…
AI: It’s necessary, man
I have seen so many changes in the music industry, I feel like a dinosaur at times.
AI: What kind of changes?
Well, for one thing, I started as an R&B/rap artiste, recording on a 4 track machine (computers had not come into the process), and discovering the art of guitar recording. Lots and lots.
AI: 4 track! That is old. That’s some godfather of the industry stuff…
Tell me about it. We would sequence all the music on a keyboard and run it on one track, use a second for a lead vocal and the rest for backing vocals. It was intense. Unfortunately, I lost all the music made then when my family had to flee a community war situation.
AI: Oh. That is unfortunate. I know what it’s like to lose a backlog of data you made.
(Yes it’s what you’re thinking. I had one of them hard drive crash marathons. It’s painful especially when you’re the only one who has the data…. (T_T) RIP Data.)
AI: So what genre of music do you play now?
I find it hard to categorize what I do because I have so many influences which I employ as I feel, but the foundation of my expression has been rock music with a dose of funk, soul, folk, jazz and R&B, especially in my vocals.
AI: Okay. So what challenges have you experienced since you started?
I think the biggest challenge has been in the field of connecting with the right audience, on a business and artistic level. Next will be the technical issues when you have to perform live. There’s a lot left to be desired there. Next will be finding suitable platforms to play on.
AI: Could you explain what you mean by suitable platforms?
A lot of the stages that I have played on and witnessed other acts have been pretty makeshift. Most cafes, lounges and such never have a stage or proper space for a band. The best venues so far are churches and they have their hiccups, too. Apart from that, the structural systems that aid a progressive musical career are not existing or solid yet. Like we don’t have notable music awards, artiste cooperatives or even charts that help with rating one’s progress. There are efforts being made by a few bodies but we are yet to feel the full effect. Of course you must have heard of Zainab Sule’s annual rock concert. That has been fairly consistent.
(Oh, He’s going to be performing at MIDNIGHT as well. I’ve seen him play. He’s cool. He did this western sounding song, one time, that just hit it out of the park for me.)
AI: Oh, yeah, I noticed the makeshift stage you mentioned.
Yes. That needs a lot of work and I am looking forward to seeing that change
AI: What artists or/and band would you say had the most influence on your sound?
That is a long list. Some of them are Stevie Wonder, James Ingram, Prince, Ray Parker jr, Sananda Maitreya, Bobby Brown, Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews band, The Civil Wars, Babyface, Puddle of Mud. I could go on and on. Each one of them I have studied for very different reasons beyond the music. Like, I love Prince’s business sense, the dynamic song writing of DMB and so on.
AI: So you have a large pool of influences that reached more than your music.
(Hmmm…..Interesting. Most people just mention Metallica….(Stares at AxlPif) )
AI: So what does Mr. Bem Sar do when he’s not making music?
I have a fascination with what life would have been like if Adam and Eve didn’t do the bad thing. And I think of the ways man has entangled himself with many things and seek ways to free myself and others from that system. So I study and practice principles of permaculture and other patterns that make life simple to enjoy.
(A musician and a student of life. #BAWS)
AI: Okay, this one is almost a personal question. Almost. How long did it take you to be a “competent” guitar player? By that I mean, if someone asked you if you could play your answer would be “YES” not “I’m still learning.”
(What? I said “ALMOST”)
Even now I am reluctant to say I am a competent guitarist. I started playing big shows with Age Beeka before I knew what I was doing.
AI: I guess we learn something new everyday
That’s true. I recall the story of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn. When he went on tour with his band, he would visit a guitar teacher in each town they stopped at and pay for a lesson. Once, he knew more than the teacher in one town. He taught her what he could and still paid for the lesson. That lesson, for me, was that you have to keep ur brain and finger cells warm, always.
I have a personal story like that. I wanted to learn the finger picking style and the code was broken as I watched a beginner who didn’t know how to strum but only pick her notes. Just goes to show you have to keep learning and relearning sometimes.
AI: Nice one.
You can listen to some of Bem Sar’s music at cdbaby.com/bemsar12
Be sure attend MIDNIGHT and see him perform them, LIVE!!
Tickets sold in Salamander Cafe, Classic Rock Cafe and the works…GRAB YOUR COPY, NOW!!!