Kingsley and Benjamin Okorie are brothers - both still under the age of 25. Benjamin is the energetic drummer and younger brother who gets heavily driven by the music whenever he is on stage. Kingsley is the guitarist and singer, who leads the madness of ‘Osondu’ whenever this duo is on stage.
Kingsley studied Law while Benjamin studied Music. They are the first two of five children who all make music. Growing up as church boys and with a mother who is now a Bishop, Kingsley and Benjamin always made music. The first bits of money they made from music came of playing music in Church.
In 2004, a man called, “Elder Prince” gave Kingsley N4,000 while for Benjamin, it was N100. As it always is, those monies became victim to Nigerian parents and their ‘savings concept.’
Before The Cavemen became a thing in 2018 while Kingsley was attending Law School - sadly - at the Kano Campus, they always knew they were going to make music. Despite the two-year age difference, they have always been like twins. They competed against each other, drove each other and respected each other.
While Kingsley was attending Babcock University and Benjamin was attending Peter Kings College of Music, Badagry, they lowkey competed. Each person would work hard so he wouldn’t be left behind by the other one. That was also the first time they got separated. Yet, in their conversations is a mutual respect.
On this day at FreeMe Space, Ikate, Lekki, Lagos, Kingsley did a lot of the talking while Benjamin clarified and illuminated stories with his obvious good memory. They have always been close, but the separation of their parents brought them closer. Kingsley and Benjamin went with their dad while the three younger ones were with their mom.
Spirituality and making music in the Nigerian way
“‘Osondu’ was given to us, we didn’t compose it,” Kingsley said. The weird thing is that even though these brothers sing in Igbo, Pidgin and Pure English, they can’t really speak Igbo. In fact, their Igbo is terrible.
Benjamin says, “I don’t write, I dream about songs. For example, ‘Me, U, I’ was written backwards. ‘Bolo Bolo’ was my dream too. I just dream of the words, wake up, tell Kingsley and we create. I think our music is mostly spiritual rather than physical. The music is just like our own contribution to African music. If Igbo people complain about their Igbo, we’d ask them what they’ve contributed.”
The same trend inspired Benjamin to start singing. In his earliest days, he was simply an instrumentalist who never tried out singing. But as The Cavemen began to grow its online act, they needed singers that they couldn’t afford to pay. Benjamin picked up the microphone and the rest has since been history.
“I didn’t even know I could sing,” Benjamin says. While Benjamin sings now, roles in The Cavemen are still divided. Kingsley writes most of the songs, and does a chunk of electronic production and sequencing while Benjamin arranges.
Early days: Inspiration from church and classics
Growing up, their mom played a lot of gospel music from Chioma Jesus, Pati Obasi and so forth while their dad loved Osadebe, Bright Chimezie, Sunny Ade and all the greats. Their driver was an Oliver De Coque stan too.
Kingsley says, “We don’t speak Igbo, but we can brag that we know all the Oliver D Coque songs in history.”
Except for Michael Jackson or Lionel Richie, they never really played contemporary secular music till they were much older and in secondary school. The only sadness within this duo is that they never got to play with any of these greats.
Benjamin jokes, “For example, the first time we met Oliver De Coque, he was dead. We were at his wake keep.”
In their artwork for, ‘Bolo Bolo’ is the clear indication that these were old souls. The world currently resides in a throwback reality defined by avant-garde movements. Electro-pop and New Jack Swing are back and so is 80’s colour blocking. The artwork for, ‘Bolo Bolo’ is intentionally geared towards a retro aesthetic in hue, lustre and detail.
Kingsley and Benjamin started playing music when they were three years old respectively. By the time each of them was seven, they had major roles in the church choir. Whenever they were free, they would always go to church and play till they got tired.
“Dem nor born you well, make you say you nor go church. Even if it’s Monday service [laughs],” Kingsley jokes. With the combination of Church in their musical DNA, they were always going to be attracted to sounds that could be amplified by live performance. In school, asides playing football, they were also members of the band.
Benjamin says, “My and I and [a guy called] Solomon were like favourites. My mom never gave us a break - she encouraged us to be active.” These guys were so about the music that they didn’t start romance till they were around 15 respectively - they were band keeps.”
Kingsley says, “We didn’t have time for girls, [Our routine] was like school, choir, band, church… And we had Uncles who played music as well. The other extracurricular that we had was sneaking out through a gutter at Ogudu GRA to go see this church choir that played like Marvin Sapp - we had never seen anything like. We later realized that our mom knew we were sneaking out, but she never stopped us.”
Identity: Becoming The Cavemen
Between 2014 and 2016, Kingsley and Benjamin started making a lot of Jazz music with Etuk, a Jazz improv. trumpeter. Benjamin attended music school, so he had an idea of Jazz music, but Kingsley didn’t.
In 2017, Kingsley was in Civil Litigation class when he started feeling like a Caveman. The Kano campus of the Nigerian Law School is on the outskirts of town and ‘away’ from civilization. Kingsley says, “I felt like I had been removed from civilization [laughs]. So, I just said, ‘I think I’m a Caveman.’ I also felt like I was beginning to find myself and the music I wanted to make.
“I came back for Externship and told my brother. At the time, we were doing pop-fusion like Nico and Vinz, but shortly after, we made ‘Osondu’ and it made us realize that it was Nigerian music, rich in Folk and Hi-Life that we were meant to be doing. We had other pop songs, but ‘Osondu’ was just an underdog that became the top dog.”
First, they were Knote and The Cavemen - Kingsley is Knote. Then, they became Cavemen Music. In the final quarter 2017, Kingsley had his call-to-bar ceremony in Abuja, and it coincided with The Cavemen’s first major performance at Tamari Festival.
“We performed ‘Rawar’ and ‘Osondu.’ During the performance of ‘Osondu,’ everybody went crazy. Even us felt something we’d never felt before. After that, everything changed and we realized that Hi-life resonated with us and our fans more, so we kept making it. We’ve always wanted to find a sound.
“I remember listening to Destined Kids and thinking, ‘Why are you making music like this?’ This was just our moment,” Kingsley reminisces
Then, in 2018, they became The Cavemen. Benjamin says, “The Cavemen was when we started making Igbo music. We felt the peak of Igbo Hi-life music kind of died with the Nigerian Civil war - after Celestine Oku and Rex Lawson. In fact, the end of the Nigerian civil war gave birth to psychedelic rock bands."
“We wanted to bring that back. Honestly, it was not about money - I mean, it is - but, we just wanted to be heard. People used to jam this music in the clubs in the 80’s. Nigeria is more than just Afro-pop or Afrobeats. We are just bringing our culture into it. We even have a song with ‘DNA.’ We spoke Yoruba on it,” Kingsley adds.
Meeting Lady Donli and Producing a chunk of ‘Enjoy Your Life’
In 2012, Kingsley started producing beats with FL Studio and Logic after Law school. Kingsley started producing shortly after. These days, he programs all The Cavemen songs.
Kingsley had played bass on one song off Odunsi’s debut album, rare, Bez’s album and Femi Leye’s album. But before then, they met Lady Donli at Tamari Festival in Abuja.
The Cavemen produced 10 songs off Lady Donli’s debut album, Enjoy Your Life. Their sound felt evident in the sound, but they seldom get mentioned in the conversation of that album. Kingsley says, “What will be will be. The Bible says, “Let another man praise thee…” That was the first album we ever produced. ‘Cash’ was the best song we produced in our bedroom.”
This might be The Cavemen’s debut album, but these brothers are already recording the sixth song on their third album. Ergo, their sophomore album is ready. People wanted them to release an EP, but as old souls, they vehemently refused. Make no mistake, they’re not just about timber, shekere and Hi-life, they are also very diverse.
The 16-track R.O.O.T.S will be rooted in Igbo Highlife in all its beauty. As the acronym in its title connotes, it will be rich in Igbo culture by sound, topic and delivery. With their avant-garde style and fashion sense, and their constant collaboration with members of the alte community, people have called them alte, but The Cavemen is anything but - especially by sound.
Kingsley says, “The Nigerian ‘mainstream’ is subjective. I listened to R.O.O.T.S this morning and I felt I was for everything; dance, chill, live, run, sex, cry… Everything. We are a band. At some points, bands were the thing in Nigerian music - clubs were filled with band performances. That was the Nigerian mainstream.
“Now, bands still exist at ‘jumps,’ parties and street events. That’s still the Nigerian mainstream. Afro-pop is also the Nigerian mainstream, even though bands are not as influential on millennials and Gen Z anymore except it’s at [owambe].
“I feel our sound is what the average Nigerian would want to hear and that’s not exactly dominant anymore in the Nigerian mainstream. Our music also transcends generations and demographics.”
R.O.O.T.S drops on August 22. 'Anita,' its lead single is already out.
R.O.O.T.S will be released under FreeMe Music - the new version of FreeMe. Joshua Ahazie, Creative Director for The Cavemen sent Michael Ugwu, the CEO of FreeMe their music in early 2020. Ugwu’s wife fell in love with, ‘Osondu.’ This made Ugwu take notice and give them a proper listen.
The result is a licensing and distribution deal. Kingsley says, “The deal pays us more than Michael sef. He just wanted to help us… If we ever sign a major record deal, it must involve FreeMe.”
These days though, Kingsley isn’t a Christian anymore, but he still believes in God. On the other hand, Benjamin still believes in God and still identifies as a Christian, but his attendance of Church is another discussion entirely. Moving on…
Nigerian band culture never died. Neither did Hi-life of any kind. However, they have been reduced to passive genres as Afro-pop continues to rise. The Cavemen are still very niche, but they are building something great. Anybody who has seen them perform will testify. If regular bands are reduced to regular parties and street carnivals, The Cavemen are bringing the cool back to it.
What we’re witnessing is the early days of their journey towards mainstream acceptance. A key dream for The Cavemen is to tour Africa when we have more tour friendly conditions. Nonetheless, The Cavemen have come a long way from funding their own shows and having invited artists be their audience.