Meet Charleston Okafor

In 1985, Charleston Okafor came to America from Ogidi, a small village in eastern Nigeria. A blood relative of the world-renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart, 1958), Okafor moved to the US with the intention of becoming a doctor, and enrolled as a pre-med student at Western Kentucky University. Then, he says, "I discovered MTV."

 

Born the last of 10 sons into a traditional Igbo family in the now defunct Republic of Biafra (Ogidi Inwelle, Anambra North, Southeast, Nigeria), Charleston Okafor nurtured the dream of a recording career as far back as he could remember.

 

Okafor credits his mother, Christina Akuadi Okafor, with passing down her musical talent to him. A former musical director of the women's a cappella church group in Ogidi, Christina performed in the church naming and death ceremonies that are social and religious rites of passage in traditional Ibo culture (one of Nigeria's three tribes).

"As was the case in those days, and still is with the youths in my village today, young boys like me longed for the days when we could participate in our own masquerade or nkpokiti dance groups," he says.

 

While at Western Kentucky, Charleston began two lifelong, influential musical friendships that would start him on the road to realizing his musical dreams. Byron House (bassist, Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Dolly Parton) and Bill Bitner (first recording engineer to work with Charleston) would inspire him to abandon his studies in favor of music and pave the way for future encounters with industry heavies like Victor Axelrod aka Ticklah (Easy Star All Stars, Antibalas, Amy Winehouse) and DJ Spooky, both of whom have remixed Charleston’s earlier work.

 

Eleven years after moving to the United States, Okafor set his medical books aside to become the force behind the Asante Groove project. A musical director since the age of 10, Charleston brought the tradition of music "I-rector" to Asante Groove's floating membership -- an amalgam of Cleveland-based jazz and reggae musicians creating a sound that runs the gamut from dancehall reggae to smooth jazz.

 

Charleston also makes his mark on the Cleveland music community with African Abstract, one of the longest-running radio shows in Cleveland and a staple of WCSB’s Sunday afternoon programming since 1992. 

 

Asante Groove and Charleston’s current band, Hybrid Shakedown, have opened for many of the national acts he spins on the radio - groups like the Meditations, Chaka Demus & Pliers, reggae superstar Michael Rose of Black Uhuru, Oliver Mtukudzi and others.

 

These days, when he’s not busy recording, playing gigs with Hybrid Shakedown, or launching his own label (Royal House of Vincent), Okafor spends quality time with his family, enjoys playing soccer and teaches high school math in his adopted hometown of Cleveland.