One of the classiest performers in Prague returns to the club circuit this weekend. After a three-year absence, Philip Nikwé is back with a fresh take on his unique blend of African rhythms and European pop, flavored with tastes of American funk and soul.
A polished pianist and singer who combines nightclub cool with street panache, Nikwé was for several years the one-man house band at the Marriott, serving up sophisticated standards and elegant original works to match the setting. He was forced to put aside performing by the birth of his son, Nell, and a nagging case of tendinitis. With child-reading duties and medical issues now under control, heʼs free to pick up where he left off – with some new flourishes.
“Iʼll be playing in a trio for the first time,” he says. “We will be doing acoustic versions of my songs, which in the past have been much more electronic. And the arrangements will be jazz-oriented, very open to improvisation.”
Nikwé got started in the music business early. His father owned a nightclub in Cotonou, Benin, where Philip hung out as a boy, learning to play the piano and absorbing contemporary West African sounds. After studies in Paris and several years working the clubs in London, he moved to Prague, where he met his wife, the noted fashion designer Alice Abraham. By then, he had recorded his first album, Movinʼ Pata, which set the template for his style: engaging melodies, catchy rhythms and a sultry, romantic sound alternating with techno beats on the dance tracks. That reached full fruition on The Taste of Your Love, a 2002 release filled with great original songs like “Crumbs of Love,” “A Dreamy Night” and “Prisoner.”
Itʼs tempting to classify what Nikwé does as “world music,” but thatʼs not quite correct, at least not in the usual sense of the term, which he feels has demeaning connotations for African performers. “Why are African artists expected to sound exotic, and dance half-naked with a banana belt around their hip?” he says. That may be an overstatement, but it highlights Nikwéʼs approach to music, which has African roots but draws on a smart mix of modern Western sounds with sharp production values.
With two local players behind him – bassist Vladimir Kliment and drummer Radek Němejc – Nikwé, who constantly does remixes of his music, is recasting it this time in a standard jazz format. “Itʼs a quick but quality way to present it, with a formatted introduction and finish, and 5-10 minutes of improv in the middle, depending on the audience and atmosphere,” he says. That should give listeners an introduction to his work and a sense of how many different directions it can go.
Itʼs also a warm-up for touring. “This is a laboratory where we can try some things before going on the road next year,” he says. “Starting in the spring, weʼll be in Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.”
And hopefully, playing more dates in Prague. Nikwé brings a refreshing intelligence and urbanity to the local music scene, along with a distinctive body of work. It will be good to have him back.
To hear some cuts by Philip Nikwé: http://soundcloud.com/search?q[fulltext]=philip+nikwe