Cervo, Fela Kuti and Expensive S***
“One of the policemen planted a joint, and then pulled it out and called for Fela Kuti to be arrested; Fela called him over and said ‘Let me look at that?’ – before swallowing it whole…”
Chris Knight (AKA Cervo) is known in these parts for his afrocentric clubnight Banana Hill, which made its name in Sheffield over five years ago before becoming one of the most forward-thinking club nights in the UK. Meanwhile, the Newcastle-born producer has released an eclectic mix of club-ready bangers on Black Acre, Lumberjacks in Hell and put out the first Banana Hill release to critical acclaim. We caught up with the man born on the wrong continent to hear about his formative trips to Ghana and Uganda ahead of their room 2 takeover at Pretty Pretty Good‘s huge Southbank Warehouse event next weekend.
How’s it going, Cervo? We miss Banana Hill in Sheff!
We miss Sheffield too! I wouldn’t really say we expanded, just shifted base – it got a bit difficult with neither of us or our friends living there. We’re actually more focused on doing smaller parties: 200 cap, one guest DJ and a bit more of a regular crowd. It’s been nice building that way instead of trying to pull in lots of people.
Your first release made quite the splash! What’s next?
I was really surprised with how well it went down, particularly as we didn’t do any kind of PR. But we we did have some help from Stamp The Wax, Les Yeux Oranges and Bandcamp in particular. It was surreal to see people like Optimo and Hunee picking it up though! The next one is coming early next year, and features a couple of collaborative tracks from XOA and Contours which I’m really looking forward to sharing.
You’ve just got back from a trip to Uganda. What have you been up to there?
Myself and Contours (Rhythm Section) went for a recording project and ended up working predominantly with a percussion troupe. We were being hosted by a label called Nyege Nyege, who also run a festival out there, and lived at a villa in Kampala with recording studio for most of the time. There were a load of other artists from all over the world staying there so it was a pretty amazing experience, though we did have to share bunk beds! We’ll probably be sharing that material next summer, so keep an eye out for that.
We’re loving your new ‘Deyo’ release on Black Acre, it’s an interesting change in direction you’ve taken. You heading down the tribal/techno route?
Thanks! I think I’m still finding my feet a bit with production so I’m experimenting a lot – it’s nice to be working with Black Acre as they’re open to that and are encouraging me to cross genres. I guess I don’t want to make things that are wildly different, but I still want to keep people guessing a bit.
In the Piccadilly Records description of ‘Deyo’ it mentions a ‘tough period mentally’ and a formative trip to Ghana. What happened there if you don’t mind going into it?
I had been struggling with anxiety and depression throughout last year, and that trip came off the back of a particularly bad month in September. I think it was the first time I’d fully accepted what I was feeling and dealt with it properly, and I came back from Ghana and totally changed the way that I did things. It’s gone in a really positive direction since then, and so it’s particularly nice to have that release as a kind of physical reminder of that turning point.
We’re hyped for your room 2 hosting at the huge Pretty Pretty Good event on November 24th! Move D killed it for BH last time he played here. What’ve you got planned?
Yes, really excited for that! I’ve seen Haai play before and she’s super talented, so will be interesting to see where things go over the night.
Lovely to see Gilles invited you to play on his station Worldwide FM. I can’t think of a more fitting home for a Banana Hill radio show!
It was a pleasure to head through, though I was super nervous. Got the old wobbly hand when cueing up the tracks. I think WWFM has really formed its own unique path, which was always going to be tricky with the likes of established stations like NTS and Rinse FM.
You’re still doing gigs with former Boiler Room MC Thris Tian as Global Roots, up next is Soup Kitchen in Manchester. How did that duo come about?
Yes, this weekend will be the 2 year anniversary of that. Funnily enough it all started when we invited him up to play with Move D and he ended up coming to Manchester the next day to play at Soup Kitchen with ATFA. We had a really fun b2b and just decided to do it more regularly.
Cervo’s show starts at 3:00:00 on Worldwide FM!
You recently hosted a Q&A with Dele Sosimi of at a screening of Finding Fela in London. He must have some crazy stories from the Fela Kuti days! Any standouts?
Dele has stories for days! The best one was probably the one behind the song ‘Expensive Shit’. The police raided Fela’s house, but someone had tipped him off so the house was totally clean. One of the policemen planted a joint, and then pulled it out and called for Fela to be arrested; Fela called him over and said ‘Let me look at that?’ – before swallowing it whole. They then took him to prison, where they waited for him to … pass it though his system. They had guards watching him day & night, but he managed to poo the joint out secretly as the other prisoners all loved him so managed to cover him. He finally announced to the guards that he was ready (they had been waiting 3 full days) and all of the guards ran to him. He squatted down in the middle of the floor and had a poo on the floor and announced “here is the shit you have all been waiting for!”. Genius!
Thanks for chatting Cervo! See you next Friday
Cervo plays next Friday as part of Banana Hill’s room 2 takeover at Pretty Pretty Good‘s next Southbank Warehouse event with Move D, Anthony Parasole, Mor Elian and HAAi. Tickets are available for £14 here.