Ezekiel Olaleye: the inventor changing the African narrative through his iconic electronic guitars

Instruments of Africa

Ezekiel Olaleye wants Instruments of Africa to be Africa’s symbol.

Instruments of Africa was first launched in the United States in 2016, incorporated in 2017, and was subsequently incorporated in Nigeria and United Kingdom.

Ezekiel Olaleye wants Instruments of Africa to be Africa’s symbol.

Ask Olaleye ‘why Instruments of Africa?’ and his answer is simply “representation.”

“It’s an innovative company that seeks to create products, innovative products, innovative ideas for the African market and the world,” he says, “and the goal is to make sure that Africa has a place on the world stage and to bring innovative ideas to the continent.”

A Nigerian-American, Olaleye found his life purpose in mid-life as an inventor, a discovery that led him to pursue his passion—music and his passion for music brought about Instruments of Africa, a company known for its iconic ‘African Electric Guitar’ that is designed in the shape of the African landscape (In the shape of Africa or made in the image of Africa).

Olaleye made the first prototype of his iconic electric guitar between 2005 and 2010. “But my first prototype was not that great. It looked nice but it didn’t sound good. And, I was a bit frustrated because it was a lot of work to make the first one,” he tells the B&FT during his visit to Accra, Ghana, at the Villa Monticello Boutique Hotel.

“When I did the first one, I didn’t factor in the numbers because when you build guitars everything has to do with precision and numbers—the neck, the bridge, the headstock,” he explains calmly.

That was his first mistake, and it was okay to make that mistake. It allowed him to go back to the drawing board, revisit the concept and understand the intricacies of building the iconic guitar.

“So, I went back to the drawing board to refine the instruments and by the time the whole refining process was completed I plugged it and it sounded good and it looked good,” Olaleye says. That was when he thought it would be egregiously unfair to humanity to keep that discovery to himself. It has to be “a symbol for Africa. That’s why we call it Instruments of Africa. It has to be that I wanted to give every African a sense of belonging,” he says.

The goal is to name the iconic electronic guitars after capital cities across Africa and so far Olaleye had about nine guitars named after Accra, Ghana; Lagos where he was born; Cairo, Nairobi, Kinshasa, Kigali, Rwanda and Soweto, South Africa. According to him, naming the iconic electronic guitars after these prominent African cities gives every African who plays the instrument a sense of belonging.

The uniqueness of the guitars

The beauty of the electronic guitars being designed and built by Instruments of Africa is that they can be used for any genre—hip-hop, reggae, dancehall, afro-pop, highlife, jazz, rock and roll and many more. This is because of the way the pickup is set up, which is the electromagnetic device inside that make the guitar sound.

Also, the headstock of the guitar looks like the mouth of an eagle or the horn of Africa even though, according to Olaleye, it was supposed to be Madagascar.

He said when he finished designing the first headstock, he didn’t like how it looked. “So, we scrapped that out and refined it and made it really cool—a combination of Madagascar and everything. When you refined all these things you see new ideas. That’s the concept.”

Again, when one looks at the guitar itself it is a symbol of the continent. It gives the impression that Africa is an Instrument—a musical instrument and an art piece.

Changing the narrative through the guitar

Olaleye believes Instruments of Africa’s iconic electronic guitars are instruments of greatness, hope, change and most crucially “African symbol.”

“We can look at this and feel this is Africa because for me the ultimate from the get-go…the goal was to change the narrative about how the world views Africa. They think we are savages; they think we are poor people; they think we are people who don’t have the intellectual capability. We have to be able to change that narrative from the negative connotations and portray Africa in such a positive light,” he says.

“We have to embrace our own identity when it comes to music. We are not looking at Western music anymore and I strongly believe Instruments of Africa will have a strong influence when it comes to innovation, when it comes to entertainment, when it comes to music in the nearest future, as long as we keep pushing the narrative I believe this going to have an impact,” he adds.

The journey and the joy therein

Olaleye played multiple instruments, starting by playing the drums at the age of six. He then transitioned from drums to the piano and the guitar. That notwithstanding, he believes he would rather be the one to produce the instruments and let people use them to make a change.

Ezekiel Olaleye

While working in the finance and chaplaincy industries, he learned how to survive between his passion for music and innovation and his career. Even though Olaleye liked finance because it put food on the table, there was also this yearning to do more. “There is this yearning to be an inventor, to be a producer, to be more than just average,” he says.

After roughly working for five years in the financial industry with Aon Plc and VISA, Olaleye set out to harness that unquenchable desire to pursue his passion because “there was more to my life than just working in the financial world.”

During those five years, he was playing music gigs on weekends. “I felt a sense of peace playing music and excitement and joy compared to sitting behind the computer doing finance from Monday to Friday.”

Making passion profitable

Asked how one makes his or her passion profitable, Olaleye had this to say: “Ultimately, the key to that is you have to desire to see lives being transformed. If you have a passion and the passion is just for yourself then it is not really a strong passion. Every passion should bring transformative opportunity to humanity. Whatever you are doing, whatever innovative idea you have if it is not to help humanity then it is not a very solid passion.

“So, once you start doing that and people can buy into your passion, they will be able to see what you are doing and they will pay for what you are doing. My passion is music. My passion is design and invention. My passion is to see people thrive and also work behind the scenes and to make things happen for people in front.”

And Instruments of Africa wants to see lives being transformed as well as see Africa being portrayed in a positive light.

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