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Concert Thu Apr 26 2007
Upon hearing "Uprising," the 1999 debut single by Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, many listeners mistook it for a long-lost obscurity circa early-70s Lagos. Imagine the surprise when it turned out that the thing had been cut by a group of modern-day Brooklynites. Fact is, it was an easy enough misjudgment to make, even for listeners long familiar with Fela Kuti’s afrobeat. One reason for this was that the joint was mic’d & recorded in just the “right” way that it sounded like something of that vintage and origin. But the main thing that put it over was that it'd been taken to the stage by musicians who weren’t merely copping a style, but understood and — more crucially — genuinely felt the music they were playing down to its deepest marrow. Naturally, it also didn’t hurt that the responsible party clearly involved musicians who possessed some well-seasoned and nuanced chops. Like the best of afrobeat, it was a megablast of motherland funk — eruptive, fierce, and monumentally powerful. As Bunny Wailer might’ve said: “Some things they come to you, other things they come at you, but this sound it moves right through you.”
So: lead, follow, or get out of the way. That was what Fela had in mind when he concocted afrobeat back in late 1960s Nigeria. The music was his own musical response to homegrown post-colonial blues, James Brown’s funk, and the politics of ‘60s-era Black Power radicalism transplanted onto Nigerian soil. It made Fela a celebrity throughout Africa, and a figure of scorn and unrelenting legal persecution in his own native country. It’s a music of defiance and agitation borne from the insistence (and hope) for a more humane and just society, for a better world. Because life can be enough of a struggle — only sometimes for some folks, but more times than not for others. And finding either justice or joy in life sometimes involves too much blood and fire, too much kicking against the pricks of the pressures and powers that be. Hence our identification — even if from the more comfortable, far-flung orbits, from nth degrees of removal — with certain “message” music; be it roots-reggae, punk, or the funk of Sly Stone and the Godfather of Soul. It’s both libidinal and liberatory in spirit, as much about release as resistance, good for accompanying both the shaking of hips and the upraising of fists. And the guys in Antibalas have both of those pockets covered quite solidly.
Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra are playing at Park West this Friday evening. They’re touring to support the recent release of their fourth full-length LP, Security. Opening up for the band is lesbian Cuban hip-hop trio Las Krudas. Tickets are $17, and the show starts at 6pm.