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Antibalas: Music by the people, for the people

Posted by August 19th, 2007 No Comments »

antibalas_singerAntibalas Afrobeat Orchestra
Live @ Neumos
June 2007

There is a small, but not insignificant, chance that if Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra performed on a slow night, there’d be more people on stage than in the crowd. Touring with anywhere between eleven and fourteen members, and having recorded with a score more, Antibalas plays Afrobeat—music by the people, for the people.

That wasn’t the case recently however, as the orchestra played to a packed Neumo’s house (with the newly remodeled Moe’s bar in place of the former Crystal Ball Room right next door). Space was at a premium among the gyrating listeners; late-comers had to watch the stage from the back of the room, as hot-bodied funk and Afrobeat filled the air and fueled the floor.

antibalas_nycThere is a small, but not insignificant, chance that if Antibalas
Afrobeat Orchestra
performed on a slow night, there’d be more people on
stage than in the crowd. Touring with anywhere between eleven and
fourteen members, and having recorded with a score more, Antibalas
plays Afrobeat—music by the people, for the people.

That
wasn’t the case recently however, as the orchestra played to a packed
Neumo’s house (with the newly remodeled Moe’s bar in place of the
former Crystal Ball Room right next door). Space was at a premium among
the gyrating listeners; late-comers had to watch the stage from the
back of the room, as hot-bodied funk and Afrobeat filled the air and
fueled the floor.

Afrobeat is, for those curious, a hybrid form
of jazz and Nigerian traditional music that incorporates ideas from
American funk and soul. Antibalas’ version features a fantastic horn
section, rubbery, ballistic bass, and more percussion than you can
shake (or strike) a stick at. While we’re breaking down the name,
emphasis should be placed on "Orchestra." The band is most definitely
not a jam band; the group has a leader, who conducts on-stage, and what
solos there are do not go indefinitely. Songs may last ten to fifteen
minutes, sure, but that’s because they were written that way.
The
band was first assembled by Martin Perna, saxophonist and lyricist in
Antibalas, in 1998. Seven members strong, the band played originals
strongly influenced by Fela Kuti, the creator of Afrobeat. They were
known as El Conjunto Antibalas (or The Bulletproof Ensemble).

Within
a year, the group had instituted a name change, found a semi-permanent
roster, and recorded its first single. Featuring Egypt 80 drummer Joj
Kuo, the songs struck a chord in New York. Antibalas were soon tapped
to open the first of seventy AFRICALIA! parties in Lower Manhattan,
fetes designed to celebrate Afrobeat, and all musical styles African.
After
two tours of England, one slightly more unplanned than the other (that
one, the first, had band members sleeping on floor of their dressing
room), Antibalas returned to America and released their first album
*Liberation Afrobeat Vol. 1* on independent Afrosound Records. As the
2000 presidential elections came and went, Antibalas went on a series
of tours, signed a deal with Ninja Tune Records, and, in honor of
President Bush, revived the Fela Kuti classic "Authority Stealing."

By
2002, the band had toured much of the European continent, delivering Afrobeat to the good people of Switzerland and the Netherlands. While
cramped in the back of a ramshackle tour bus, they found time to record
and release their second album. Following in the same vein as the
band’s first, *Talkatif* showed that Antibalas could sound as solid on
record as it does live.

*Who is This America?*, the band’s third
release, came at the end of more touring, both within and outside the
states. It also came at the end of their partnership with Ninja Tune.
*Who …* was released on Ropeadope/Artemis records and features
Antibalas’ trademark grooves, gritty funk and fiery salsa, strong and
sublime arrangements and overall undeniable talents.

Switching
labels yet again, Antibalas released *Security*, their newest, earlier
this year on ANTI-, home to Tom Waits and The Frames.

It was for this record that they recently returned to, and sold out, Neumo’s.

The
crowd was deep in the heat of the band: swaying, clapping, calling back
and forth, and generally funking up the floor. And Antibalas gave it
back with fervor; for a night, our night, just like every night they
play, we were adoring worshipers as the Orchestra railed against
corrupt politics, wailed in high, syncopated runs, and asked simply
that we give ourselves to the moment.


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