The Man Behind the Music

Singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist, and percussionist Leon “Kaleta” Ligan-Majekodunmi was born in Porto Novo, Benin (formerly Dahomey) but started his musical journey in Lagos, Nigeria during the 1970s. Beginning with legendary Juju and World music singer King Sunny Ade. Together they worked on and produced many of the “High-life” and “JuJu” sounds of the 1970s Nigerian music scene. Shortly after he began working with another notable artist popular in Nigeria at the time, Shina Peters. Known for combining the dynamic musical elements of Fela’s “Afrobeat” and King Sunny Ade’s “Highlife Juju", Kaleta further refined his sound and expertise while learning and touring with the best of his contemporaries. Soon, he caught the eye of another legend at the time, Fela Kuti, who quickly developed a liking to the young guitarist’s talents and invited him to join his highly respected ensemble. Who knew the young and talented musician would be on tour as a frontman in the Godfather of Afrobeat’s Egypt ‘80 ensemble for much of the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

Kaleta and King Sunny Ade pictured together1970s

Kaleta & King Sunny Ade

Kaleta playing guitar with Fela Kuti at The Shrine 1970s Afrobeat Legend

Kaleta & Fela Kuti @ The Shrine

While performing and touring with one of the great pioneers of the Afrobeat genre, the aspiring musician grew exponentially in his songwriting ability. Kaleta often recalls how intensive many of the practice sessions were with the enigmatic figure describing them as entire day-long sessions that lasted from morning to night. Kuti's disciplined and rigorous songwriting and orchestration process greatly influenced how Kaleta would later shape the sound of Afrobeat into the 21st century. Discovering and defining his own unique sound that would set him apart from the other contemporary bands at the time the genre started taking off in the states. Touring with Fela and witnessing his somewhat blunt and inflammatory attitude towards many of the European audiences they played for, directed Kaleta to take a more subtle approach to the political messages ingrained in the heart of Afrobeat itself. Leaving all the raw emotions within the music itself by first entrancing the listeners to their feet with infectious instrumentals meant to prime them for the potent messages to come.

After his time with Fela came to an end, Kaleta turned towards his roots of Afropop melodies like in his earlier days producing and touring with King Sunny Ade and Shina Peters.  In 2001, he released his first solo debut album, Kaleta Jaa, to positive reviews from music critics around the world.

Due to the chaotic political climate of the early 2000s, his focus shifted, musically, towards a more socially conscious vibe. After being approached by many other admirers of the genre to join some of the early Afrobeat bands in the growing Afrobeat scene in 90s  such as Kokolo and Antibalas, Kaleta chose to form a band with former members from each and create a sound authentic to the spirit and legacy of his former mentor.

Kaleta playing guitar in the band with Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti 1970s at The Shrine, West Africa
Kaleta and Akoya Afrobeat Group photo New York City 2000s

Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble

Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble was formed in 2003.
They released three studio albums and were featured on the Darfur Project soundtrack, ASAP: The Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project. During this period, Kaleta leaned in further towards the primary message of awareness, peace, and social justice. Their Afro-Cuban, Funk, and Afrobeat fusion sound was widely lauded and credited with moving the genre evolution, worldwide, further.
Kaleta's time with Akoya made him a highly regarded expert and master of the revitalized genre.
Later in 2007, Kaleta was instrumental in forming Zozo Afrobeat. Their debut album, Country of Guns, was a reggae-influenced homage to the political spirit of some of Kaleta's inspirations within the genre, notably Bob Marley. At the same time, using that inspiration and energy to critique the United State's irrational and obsessive gun culture that has plagued its history.

In his extensive 50-year career, Kaleta has collaborated and performed with a wide range of musical talents such as Lauren Hill, Angelique Kidjo, Shina Peters, Zongo Junction, DJ BOSQ, Purple Disco Machine, and both Femi and Seun Kuti,  just to name a few. As well as guest musical appearances on shows such as Adult Swim’s Fishcenter Live Show, The Untitled Action Bronson Show on Viceland TV and the Hulu series High Fidelity. Additionally, he’s had the honor of performing at the iconic Apollo theater in New York and the Millenium stage at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as well as performing at yearly cultural festivals such as AfroPunk, Central Park Summerstage, Festival international Nuits d'Afrique and Paste Magazine's Emerging Music Festival in NYC.

Kaleta and Super Yamba Band Afrobeat Afro-funk Afro-psychedelic band group photo

Super Yamba Band