“When he found music, he put his entire focus and energy towards playing it.  He enjoyed the attention of being in the school band.  The percussion was the first instrument he played and received a brief tutorial with Fela Kuti’s keyboardist before making the bass his own instrument.  When the lockdown was implemented, he got inspired and wrote a lot of songs in a very short space of time” 

Bassist Amaeshi Ikechi is a deeply religious individual who is not afraid to say all the roles he has played in life have been made possible by God.  Those roles are of husband, father, friend, son, student and many others.  His family is Igbo predominantly based in south eastern part of Nigeria.  However, he was born and raised in the south western city of Lagos where Yoruba tribe is the majority.  As a result, he knows more about Yoruba than the Igbo tribe.  Amaeshi’s dad passed away in 2016 and his mom and two sisters live in Nigeria and his elder brother who is a gospel artist resides in the United States. The bassist is the youngest of the four siblings. 

Like most children, the only music he knew were those popular songs that were played on the radio and church music. “I don’t remember particularly loving one artist or tune until I started playing bass and someone gave me a cassette of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones with Victor Wooten on bass. I listened to it so much that I could sing along with every melody and solo”, he told Jazz It Out. Later he discovered The Yellow Jackets, Spirogyra, John Patitucci, Marcus Miller and many other artists and groups.  His academic results at primary and secondary school were good, but got a bit distracted when he started learning the bass.  But he is proud that he never failed a grade.

He also remembers bringing a bible to school, preaching to his class mates while some came for counselling.  “I was not great in playing sport and when I found music, I put all my energy towards playing it.  My extramural activity was music, music and more music”, he emphasized. He enjoyed the attention of being in the school band.  The church played a very significant role in Amaeshi’s quest to play the bass and helped him sustain it.  “Church music was largely African and so was the rhythm.  It taught me the basics in African rhythms which I believe were instrumental in my career as a bass player”, he added.

Bassist Amaeshi Ikechi. Picture by Rod Taylor

Amaeshi was 13 years old when he started learning to play the bass.  “I had access to the parsonage where the pastor and his family lived”.  He spent almost every day at the parsonage.  One day Yemi, the pastor’s son taught him how to play a major scale on an acoustic guitar.  From that day he would go to Yemi’s room and play the guitar.  Amaeshi disputes the term of “self-taught” musician. “The term is not entirely true because one still receives information from people and other sources even though it may be informal”, he explained.  The equipment he played for the first 9 years belonged to the church.  Church also offered him employment which meant it was no longer a hobby, but work and a prospective career.  “To this day, church continues to play a very important role in my career as Christianity is the cornerstone of my philosophy, inspiration, vision and the standard by which I measure success and failure”, he emphasized.

Nothing in life comes easy and this is reflected in the journey he embarked on to become the bass player he is today.  The church had an order of growth towards qualifying to receive scholarship to get training in western music instruments such as drums, piano, bass and guitar.  “One had to start with the percussion accessories such as Agogo, Shekere, Tambourine and Samba.  When you became more proficient, you were allowed to move up the chain”, he recalls.  Amaeshi’s quest to learn other instruments saw him receiving tutorial lessons from keyboardist Duro Ikujenyo who had once played for Fela Kuti. He was 18-years-old when he received lessons from Ikujenyo.  Even though the lessons did not last long, he learned a lot from the keyboardist who hailed from the same town where he grew up.

By 2004, Amaeshi’s mind was made up as to what he wanted to do with his life.  “Before making this decision, I always said I would be an accountant because I loved the subject at high school”, with a chuckle.  He enrolled at a music school called Peter Kings Music College which was run by the Berklee College, exposing him to music theory for the first time.  Amaeshi started taking the bass more seriously in 2012 and took a 3-month online tutorial lessons with legendary John Patitucci which helped him solidify his double bass foundation.  His musical learning was a combination of formal classes, books, friends who were more experienced than him, records and the Internet.

Performing live brings out the best in him. Picture by Rod Taylor

The first South African artist Amaeshi played with was Moitsimang Stix Hojeng.  However, it is Selaelo Selota whom he worked with for over 4 years.  “I remember those rehearsals and the great conversations we had.  By the time we arrived at the gig, we sounded like we had rehearsed for three for 3 weeks”, with fond memories.  Amaeshi added: “Selaelo knows how to get the best out of every musician on his stage.  He makes room for you to shine on his platform and if you excel at it, he makes more room at the next engagement”.  He credits Selota for preparing his band emotionally so that when they get on stage, they are all on fire.  These experiences taught Amaeshi the psychology of performance and the importance of artistic identity.

Other musicians that Amaeshi has performed with include Sibongile Khumalo, Mimi, Zonke, Zim Ngqawana, Malaika, Faith Kekana, Ternielle Nelson, Jolanta Durno, Kunle Ayo, Olufemi Afrobeat Koya, Marcus Wyatt, Afrika Mkhize, Andile Yenana, Steve Dyer, Thandi Ntuli, Moh Dediouf, Feya Faku, Peter Auret, Sydney Mavundla, Thandi Ntuli, Bheki Khoza, Bisoux, Funk ’D Jazz, Bokani Dyer, Linda Sikhakhane, Lee Thompson, Swing City, Johannesburg Big Band, Sisonke Xonti, Keenan Ahrends, Salim Washington, Lira, Simphiwe Dana and Zamajobe.  He has also featured in albums “Lapeng Laka” by Selaelo Selota, “Uhadi Synth” by Lwanga Gogwana, “Give and Take” DVD, “Work of Heart” and “L.O.V.E.” by Zonke as well as “Genesis of a Different World” by Steve Dyer.

Amaeshi has performed at all the major festivals in South Africa such as Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival, Youth Jazz Festival in Makhanda and others in Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Botswana, Mozambique and Lesotho.  He is currently a second-year music student at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).  Who are some of the students he has made friends with at the Pretoria institution? “Constance Ntombikayise Mokoena is one of the promising vocalists studying at TUT.  She exhibits a talent and passion that in my years of experience makes her a star that will soon be recognized by all”, he told Jazz It Out.

The lockdown that has been imposed due to Covid-19 has given him an opportunity he had been yearning for in a long time.  “I had been trying to record and my biggest challenge was music.  When the lockdown started, I literally wrote a few  songs in a very short period”, with a sense of appreciation.  He has recorded a few songs  with his quartet which are available at amaeshiikechi.bandcamp.com   His ensemble is made up of drummer Peter Auret, pianist David Cousins and trumpeter Marcus Wyatt.

Gbo Ohun – Amaeshi Ikechi

As an experienced and well-travelled bassist, Amaeshi explained who he really is.  “As a bassist I am firstly a musician, artist and then a session musician.  This order is important to me because there is a huge difference between a musician whose dream is to fit in just any musical environment and a musician who has a sound and artistic direction, and also works with other musicians from time to time”, he told Jazz It Out.  He had known for a long time that he would write his own music, lead his ensemble and record.  “I decide to work with already established musicians in order to gain experience, perfect the craft and build a following”, he added.

This artist who is comfortable with the electric and double bass though he plays more of the latter instrument rates South African bass players among the best in the world.  He believes sound and style is always preferred over skill.  “I don’t get booked because I am the most skillful or even skillful at all.  I get booked because someone likes my sound and style and they believe I would be able to interpret their music”, he explained. Amaeshi does not have a lot of time for hobbies but enjoys playing FIFA game with friends which he describes as his ultimate chill hobby. Listen to some of his compositions at amaeshiikechi.bandcamp.com  His Facebook Page is Amaeshi Akechi.  Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @amaeshiikechi