Sila's Afrofunk gets down, feels good 

On Sunday, the Grammys enlisted a high-octave pop princess to pay tribute to the late James Brown, but had the Recording Academy considered doing the Godfather of Soul justice, Victor Sila would have been called upon instead.

Let’s just say the "hardest working man in show business" and Sila, the Kenyan-born frontman of the San Francisco-based outfit Sila and the Afrofunk Experience, have a lot more in common than the "Genie in the Bottle" balladeer.

On Saturday, Sila and his fellow funkateers pay tribute to James Brown and afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti at the Independent in San Francisco.

As a child growing up in a small village in Kenya, Sila remembers tuning in to a shortwave radio forthe latest pop offerings from the West. By way of a faint, crackling radio signal, Sila first became acquainted with the guttural howls and shrieks of the Minister of Funk.

"One of the first James Brown songs I remember hearing on shortwave radio was ‘I Feel Good.’ Growing up very poor in my village and having a song like that play on the radio was very inspiring," Sila, 36, says.

His exposure to James Brown, along with such artists as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, inspired Sila to pursue music, which he says was far from a well-respected profession in Africa.

Despite his career choice, his parents supported his decision and sold cows and goats to raise money for his send-off to the U.S.

Sila’s pursuit of musical stardom was met with the heartbreak of rejection and he eventually found himself lost, an imposter of sorts, singing pedestrian pop tunes while trying to mask a heavy Kenyan accent.

It wasn’t until he stumbled upon a sold-out show by African artist Baaba Maal at the Fillmore that he realized he needed to change course.

"This was the first African artist I saw in concert singing in his own language. He was so full of life. This was the most touching experience for me and I was almost in tears. I had really forgotten who I was," he says.

Embracing his African roots and his love of funk, Sila channeled James Brown for inspiration and six years later, with the help of his renowned cast of bandmates, he’s achieved success without having to compromise his heritage (he sings in both Swahili and English) or his musical tastes.

"James Brown has always been someone who’s influenced me quite a bit. From his perseverance to his political life and his very poor background, it’s all been an inspiration to me. … His determination and the fact that he never gave up — I see that in me," Sila says.

"When I came here I never imaginedI would sell out venues and entertain people in a way that James Brown entertained me. Believe me, I’m not saying I’m the next James Brown, but I do feel he’s in the soul of music."

Sila and the Afrofunk Experience

With: DJ Jeremiah and the Afrobeat Nation

Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 771-1422, www.theindependentsf.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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