Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Still getting virus warnings at Blurt, so I'm just pasting the whole Antibalas review here:


The multi-instrumented, multi-ethnic, Brooklynite disciples of Fela Kuti have been off for half a decade, some of them backing Sharon Jones, others composing and performing the score for Broadway's Fela!, still others participating in funk-world-soul collaborations with, among others, Ocote Sound System. During the time off, Afro-beat has become, if anything, less of an exotic hybrid, more an accepted part of the landscape. These polyrhythmic, in-the-pocket grooves are not quite as American as tacos or pizza at this point, but they are also no longer quite so foreign. You don't have to trade Nigeria 70 on battered cassette tapes anymore. You can order it on Amazon.

So let's set aside, at least for the moment, the worthy role that Antibalas played in popularizing some of the world's funkiest, most searing grooves, the way the band has relentlessly, show-by-show, town-by-town, built up awareness and appreciation of Nigerian funk. How good is Antibalas the album, the band's fourth, on its own merits? The answer is: pretty good, but not as great as its inspiration.

"Dirty Money" starts in a fractured friction of multilayered drums, an organ line (that's longtime Antibalian Victor Axelrod on keys) strutting and slinking amid flash-lightning illuminations of brass and saxophone. The song balances on a knife edge between laid-back ease and propulsive motion. It leads with the hips, all physical insistence, yet remains rather cool and contemplative at its core. "The Ratcatcher," up next, also melds traditional drum kit with the syncopated tonalities of cowbell, claves, bongos and horn bursts (the horns are just as percussive as the drums). Seventies American soul twitches to life in the Shaft-era guitar work of Marcos Garcia, the space-age funk of the keyboards, but there's fusion jazz, too, in the wild keening and blaring of Stuart Bogie's saxophone. "Sare Kon Kon" (or "We Are Running") is, perhaps the most furiously heated of these tracks, skittering forward on a staccato rhythm of hand drums and overlayed with vocal howls, moans and exclamations.

Like Fela himself, Antibalas engages whole-heartedly in politics, making the common man's struggles a center of its syncopated, body-moving art. The video for "Dirty Money" is explicitly tied to the Occupy Movement, making abstract lyrics about a man drowning and falling off buildings concrete and economically determined. (Though doing so, in a fairly lighthearted way, and with Muppets.) "Sáré Kon Kon" is less of a narrative, more a direct channeling of post-global meltdown anxieties. Its motion is ceaseless and, oddly, circular, as rhythms hurry this way and that, as saxophones blare, as people shout and groan...without anyone getting much of anywhere. Afro-beat has always been protest music, but it's also an escape hatch, a physically enveloping, mildly hallucinatory experience that puts harsh realities on hold.

I still sense a bit of remove, of holding back, of loving tribute rather than full-body engagement in Antibalas' work. Heard next to actual Fela, it sounds ever so slightly scholarly and dry. Yet there's so much positive in this band's work - in its devotion to an intricate aesthetic, its commitment to justice, its sensual, hip-shifting appeal - that it hardly seems fair to grade it against the source.

DOWNLOAD: "Dirty Money" "The Ratcatcher" "Sáré Kon Kon" JENNIFER KELLY

Here's that Muppet video

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