Ghanaian rocker has been co-hosting a weekly world music party in Santa Monica for the past decade
By Michael Aushenker
It takes a global village to raise an international recording artist, and Rocky Dawuni, along with wife Cary Sullivan, is one of the co-founders (with KCRW DJ Jeremy Sole) of Afro Funke,’ a world music happening Thursday nights at Zanzibar in Santa Monica. Singer-songwriter Dawuni, leader of his eponymous group Rocky Dawuni, is also scheduled to headline a concert at MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles this month.
“On a normal night, it’s a crossroads from people of all walks of life,” said Dawuni, who emcees Afro Funke,’ where, every week, DJs regularly mix up an eclectic roster of beats to keep clubgoers in the groove: James Brown, Tito Puentes, hip hop’s Mos Def, The Roots and A Tribe Called Quest, reggae, Merengue, Ghanaian highlife music, Soukous, Afro beats and other sounds “from the (African) Diaspora.” Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian music also make the playlists. A special guest later this month will be a female DJ from Panama.
“My music has always represented empowerment and creating a positive vibe,” said Dawuni, whose first album, 1999’s ‘The Movement,” proved very popular in West Africa. Dawuni’s latest and fifth studio release, “Hymns for the Rebel Soul,” draws from Israel, Finland, Jamaica, America and his native Ghana, fusing traditional African sounds with reggae and soul music. On the 2010 CD “Tribute to a Reggae Legend,” Dawuni honored one of his heroes, the iconic Bob Marley, with a rendition of the reggae superstar’s “Sun is Shining.”
Dawuni, who has worked alongside Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel and U2’s Bono, told The Argonaut how Zanzibar, on a Thursday night, is transformed into a club where “people of all backgrounds and all ages can really call home.”
“After my tours, I know that every Thursday, I can sit in this place and really hear all the cutting-edge music from all around the world. Even at this stage, it’s a place of inspiration and a powerful reflection of what America is right now – a multiethnic country figuring out the sum of its parts as a whole.”
Married for 15 years, Dawuni and Sullivan, who reside in Sullivan’s hometown of Pacific Palisades, have a daughter, Safiyah, 10. Sullivan said her husband, who has been appointed tourism ambassador and world music ambassador for MUSIGA (Musician’s Union of Ghana), by his birth country, is an amazing live performer. “He’s one of those guys who just lights up a room. Not only does he have the stage persona but he also is a really good speaker,” she said.
At Zanzibar, “I create an environment, I speak; I inspire people,” Dawuni said. “I let people talk. It cuts across all age and cultural barriers.”
Sullivan used to be a booker for the former Temple Bar on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, which, about a decade ago, went from playing funk to becoming defunct. In the aftermath of the club’s closure, Sullivan and her husband, along with KCRW’s Sole, took their idea to Zanzibar, where the weekly Afro Funke’ affair continues to this day, even under a change of ownership taking place a few months ago. In fact, the L.A.-based fusion group Ozomatli, which Dawuni said well represented “the multiracial nature of the club,” performed at Afro Funke’s recent 10th anniversary.
Sullivan loves “how open minded the people who go to Afro Funke’ are. If you play quality organic music for them, they’re going to open their arms and enjoy it.” Laughing, she added, it’s an environment where people can dance and “forget where their telephones are; not check their emails for two hours.”
“Afro Funke’ has its own audience and its own movement,” said Dawuni, who sees his Aug. 24 all-ages concert at MacArthur Park as a sort of homecoming: “It’s really going to be a night to celebrate Los Angeles and multi ethnicities here and to create a positive spirit.” He promises “a magical, magical night.”
Afro Funke’ happens every Thursday night, 9 p.m. – 2 a.m. Admission: $7 -$10, ages 21 and over with identification. Zanzibar, 1301 Fifth St, Santa Monica. Information, afrofunke.com.