Simba and the Exceptional Africans keep the beat alive in Moscow
Simba Tirima was at a conference when a man presented him with a theory about the distribution of IQs amongst races.
In the theory, the man said African-Americans get the lowest share of IQ.
Tirima, an African-American with a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, said he decided not to take offense and thought it was actually somewhat humorous.
After Tirima gave his own presentation on complex mathematical theories, the man approached him apologetically.
He said he didn’t mean all African-Americans have a low IQ, and Tirima was exceptional.
“I am an exceptional African — hallelujah,” Tirima said.
So, when he started a band two years ago, Tirima decided the name should be, “Simba and the Exceptional Africans.”
Despite the name, the majority of the Exceptional Africans, which includes 17 members, are white. Only Tirima and one other band member are African-American.
Tirima said he is humbled and greatly honored by the positive response the band has seen from the people in the community, but he also recognizes the many great local bands in Moscow.
He said he finds it difficult to be compared with others and thoroughly enjoys listening to bands like Blue Funk Jailbreak, Genius in Remission and Skinny the Kid, who played with them recently.
“You have all these groups made up of incredibly talented musicians,” he said. “They all bring something — they’re the best at what they do.”
Tirima said he is fortunate to play with such talented people, because it takes talented people to learn the difficult African rhythms of the music.
He said he goes through a rigorous recruiting process to get the best, most talented musicians he can find.
When he hears someone he likes, he said he follows their music, going to concerts and performances for weeks before making the decision to ask them to join the band.
He called their genre of music “soul safari,” because he said they bring many different instruments to the music, but to call it a fusion doesn’t do it justice.
“Fusion can be anything,” Tirima said. “Safari is a Swahili word that means journey … So it’s a soul journey and we’re not afraid to go there, we’re not afraid to experiment, we’re not afraid to embrace sound.”
He said the sound includes some reggae, jazz, R&B, blues, afrobeat and American folk.
They want people to dance and enjoy the music — to not just hear the music, but to be part of it. He likes when they perform at places like One World Café, because people under 21 can enjoy the music as well. It is usually 8-year-olds to 70-year-olds who come, he said, and everybody dances.
Tirima is from Kenya, and in Africa people sing when they have something to say, so he thinks carefully about his music because he believes it carries a message, he said.
“And it’s not like a heavy-handed message,” Tirima said. “It’s just stating this is what I see, or these are the issues. Music, for the longest time — and still — is used to help people fight the freedom for justice.”
He said in Africa people might sing about political heavy-handedness or sing praises about an outstanding individual, so he puts some of these messages into his music.
Tirima said people have tried to describe the band as an orchestra or a big band, but he always responds by saying they are a “community of sound,” because if he were to go on stage and play and sing alone it would be like eating alone, he said.
“Humans are not made that way,” Tirima said. “Humans are social creatures who actually thrive in community. Without community, we don’t exist.”
Mary Malone can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @InkSlasherEdit