All About The Ells

DOUBLE TALENTS … Emmanuel Ndifon (left) and Slickartie are The Ells.

The Ells are the kind of feel-good fraternity whose celebrated live music act has a passing fan cycling past their perch at a local coffee shop yelling: “Yoh, The Ells! Play me a song, man! Jinne!”

The burst of enthusiasm from the beaming biker seems to be par for the course. In the 20 minutes that The Ells, comprised of Slickartie (Artwell Neusu) and Emmanuel Ndifon, have been seated, an assortment of friends, admirers and event organisers have come to say hallo.

This seemingly endless and diverse reach stems from the fact that The Ells, whose musical moniker comes from the “el” at the end of both their names, are mindbogglingly booked and busy.

Last year, they clocked over 80 gigs and they estimate they’ve performed upward of 500 shows since their inception.

Unleashing their particular brand of high energy live performance anywhere and everywhere that lends itself to one hell of a party, The Ells have performed their mishmash of acoustic, indie, soft rock, jazz, blues, reggae, pop, continental and contemporary covers at festivals, night clubs, restaurants, corporate events, birthday parties, weddings, solo shows, private gigs, for presidents and on planes (yes, planes), interspersed with some Ells originals, for the better part of eight years.

Having met on the local music scene after their individual stints as a guitarist for a set of shows for Suzy Eises (Ndifon) and as a solo artist, percussionist and singer with Savannah Afros and Mashura (Slickartie), the duo decided to blend their vocal and instrumental talent to truly dive into the business of music.

Almost a decade later, after cutting their teeth at venues such as The Boiler Room, Warehouse Theatre and Jojo’s Music & Arts Café, it’s virtually impossible to open a local gig guide and not note multiple performances by The Ells at spots like Goodfellas, Sound Garden and Godenfang, when not randomly raising the roof at Kings.

This level of work ethic and exposure is intentional and defies the stereotypes of the ego-driven, listless and inaccessible artist.

“We’ve always been consistent, whether there’s money or not,” says Slickartie, who shares their strategy for finding, creating and booking gigs.

“Every time we go to a lovely venue, a restaurant or somewhere new, we talk to the owners, ask if they do music there and if we could introduce something like that in the space.”

“Interestingly, many will say: Yes, this is something we’d like to do here to bring more people,” says Ndifon, finishing Slickartie’s thought in the way the musical brothers are wont to do.

“Namibia is big on out of sight, out of mind,” says Slickartie. “If they don’t see you, they won’t think of you to book you. So we are there. We have placed ourselves in people’s lives.”

The hardworking twosome also credits versatility as a recipe for success and believes their chameleon-like ability to connect with diverse audiences keeps them in business as they develop and play to their strengths.

“We never compete for the mic,” says Slickartie, who initially made a name for himself playing the djembe and singing deep, earthy, soul-stirring African music.

“If we show up and the crowd is 95% black, Manny looks at me because he knows what time it is. If we pull up and it’s 95% white, I look at him,” says Slickartie with a laugh.

Experts on ascertaining the vibe and getting a crowd on its feet, The Ells’ secret weapons are no doubt their shared and dynamic vocal agility and Slickartie’s trusty djembe.

“That schmack! That schmack, bruh. Oh, my God!” says Ndifon, expressing absolute awe.

“The djembe is the band, that’s the office, I swear. Can you tell me one band in the world where you have a djembe player playing pop music?” Ndifon asks. “They’re not. It’s insane. Look, I’ve never seen it. People tend to play African feel on it but Slick can play a rock groove, any groove on the thing.”

To Slickartie, who reimagines everything from Bon Iver to Bob Marley to the singular sound of the djembe, the drum means freedom.

“A lot of people have asked: Why don’t you play a drum kit? But the djembe makes me free. It liberates me,” says Slickartie. “When I’m smacking that thing, the blood in my hands is spreading everywhere and I’m happy. I can dance with it, I can jump and I can make people jump.”

While the duo is artful in retooling covers often transformed by Ndifon’s velvety tones, they actually have three hours’ worth of original music which is slowly but surely trickling out into the world and is available on Apple Music, YouTube and Spotify.

Most recently on Valentine’s Day, The Ells released a deep-feeling and lovesick track titled ‘Something’, after last year’s upbeat ‘Sound of Summer’ and their debut single, ‘Journey’. There is also an EP on the way next month.

“This one is indie. Don’t hold us to it, but the name for it is ‘Capital Ells’, as in Windhoek city ‘Capital Ells’,” says Ndifon, who also teases a more acoustic EP dropping towards the end of the year and tentatively titled ‘Salt, Wood and Fire’.

“The plan for the future is to keep playing, making good music and touring. Our voices are so nice, we need to take them outside,” says Slickartie, who has his sights set on a European tour which he feels will open more doors to festivals on the continent and abroad.

“It’s always been my dream and I think it’s that time now. We are stronger. We are more healthy vocally. We have our own music and this is the perfect time to expand.”

In terms of what’s imminent, The Ells say look out for their website, an incoming music video, their EP and new merch. Live music lovers can also catch The Ells playing a St Paddy’s Day gig at Joe’s Beerhouse in Windhoek tomorrow, 16 March, and join Slickartie for a solo show at The Brewers Market theatre on 22 March.

“It’s African music, mostly my music. Slickartie’s music is completely different to The Ells,” says Slickartie of the solo show. “I’ll do a couple of covers. Oliver Mtukudzi, Hugh Masekela, people with a similar vocal range as I used to have.”

With the year in full swing, the live music legends of good vibes and times are clearly up and at it and say they do it all for the simple love of music.

“We really enjoy ourselves,” says Slickartie. “It’s also about seeing the reactions on people’s faces,” adds Ndifon.

“Sometimes people will come and hug you and say: Today was sh*t and you guys made my day,” says Slickartie, reflecting on their career’s intangible rewards.

“Later, you sit in your room and think about the fact that you just made somebody feel amazing.”

  •; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram;

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