In 1979 Abdul came to Britain to work in banking but met other musicians and decided to form a band. This was called African Connection but then in 1982 he felt the need to concentrate on more typical African music, and a pan-African band, African Culture, came into being. Even this was not quite satisfying and at a turning point Abdul resolved to base all his music on Sierra Leone street- and folk music. At this point, 1988, the name of the band changed to Rokoto, the nickname of part of Freetown. Abdul Tee-Jay and Rokoto, a seven-piece band, brought out 3 albums, Kanka Kuru, |url=https://www.discogs.com/Abdul-Tee-Jays-Rokoto-Fire-Dombolo/release/4657905]Fire Dombolo[/url] and E'Go Lef Pan You (see below and CDs) and have toured extensively to many countries. The band entertained at the Hogmannay celebrations in Edinburgh to bring in the New Year of 1999.
More recently Abdul's music is still evolving because he now includes beautiful acoustic palm wine music. For the group Palm Wine A-Go-Go he sings and plays acoustic guitar and has just one or two other musicians on stage with kongoma (bass thumb piano), kondi (thumb piano) and drums. In 2001 they were at London venues such as the Barbican Free Stage and Coin Street Festival.
Whether with his full band or the smaller acoustic group, Tee-Jay's voice and music is truly distinctive. A new CD, Rokoto Make Me Dance-Dance has a selection of 12 dance tracks taken from each of Abdul's 3 albums. Currently he is recording both acoustic and electric sounds but is determined to play more palm wine music so that it may live on! Look out for Abdul's new acoustic album Palm Wine A- Go-Go available now! In 2004 Abdul performed at London's African Music Festival in May.
If Abdul Tee-Jay had not been living in London in the 80s, when many western music fans first discovered African styles, then his career might have been different. As it was, he had left Sierra Leone to study economics in the US before moving to the UK, where he quit banking and formed his excellent band Rokoto. But he wasn’t taken as seriously as artists based back in Africa, and never received the recognition he deserved.
Times and fashions have since changed and Abdul Tee-Jay is still here in the UK, still plugging away, and still in remarkably good form. His last album, released over a decade ago, was an acoustic set in which he revived and updated the “palm wine music” he heard as a young boy in Freetown. It’s an easy-going style, popular at parties where cheap drink is provided by the fermented sap of the oil palm tree, and has obvious links to Caribbean calypso.
It can also be remarkably subtle and varied, as Tee-Jay proved. A cheerful, gangling figure in cap and glasses, he perched on a stool specially designed to include a pedal-operated foot drum, and launched into a set that showed off both his engagingly relaxed vocal style and excellent acoustic guitar work. Backed by his countryman Bunton Cole on congas, he started with his own songs, speeding up to a slinky dance style that showed how palm wine music influenced Highlife.
He included songs by the early heroes of the style, Ebenezer Calendar, and S. E. Rogie, giving them scat-jazz embellishments, and followed with an unexpected switch to desert blues, and an impressive tribute to Ali Farka Touré.
It’s surely not too late for Abdul Tee-Jay to be rediscovered.