Antibalas bring an Afrobeat funk explosion direct from Brooklyn, New York
GROOVE to the sounds of the world's premier Afrobeat outfit at Tanks Arts Centre as the World Music Series 2013 kicks off on Friday.
Whenever you hear the name of Brooklyn's Antibalas mentioned in the world of Afrobeat, the reviews are nothing short of glowing.
Renowned across the globe as the most influential outfit in the world in their sound since the legendary Fela Kuti in the 1970s, the New York City-based outfit blend contemporary influences with the classic style of Afrobeat, making a dynamic live music experience unlike any other.
In Australia to promote their long-awaited fifth album, the 12-piece promise an amazing show at Tanks this Friday night to kick off the 2013 World Music Series.
Simply titled Antibalas, the album is both a blazing reaffirmation of the band's collective musical strengths, and a hard-hitting continuation of their funkified excursions into what Antibalas founder and baritone saxophonist Martaacn Perna calls "our vault of esoteric sounds and knowledge".
"Rhythm is what makes a good Afrobeat record," says Gabriel Roth, Daptone Records co-founder, producer and label boss behind Antibalas.
"Not just the rhythm section, but the rhythm of the horns, the rhythm of the vocals, the rhythm of the keyboards, everybody's rhythm.
"It's not just being about being right or wrong in your rhythm, or being good at it, but it's about feeling something the same way, swinging the same way, anticipating things the same way, and hitting things the same way everybody hearing music the same way, and being able to turn all those instruments into one voice. Antibalas is the only band that can do that, right now. That's why they're still at the front of the scene, after all these years."
Originally conceived by Perna as a cross between the NYC Latin funk grooves of Eddie Palmieri, Harvey Averne and Mandrill and the Afrobeat jams of the late Fela Kuti, over the years, the music of Antibalas gradually shifted towards the Fela side of the equation.
"As we got deeper into Afrobeat, we realised that we were juggling a lot of things, and kind of need to have only one thing on our plate," Perna says.
"At the time, there was not a lot of interest in Afrobeat, or in Fela, per se," adds Roth.
"Because of that, a lot of people looked at Antibalas as pioneers in this second wave of Afrobeat that kind of blossomed around the world. There are great Afrobeat bands now in Brazil, in Chicago, in England, in a lot of places, and I think a lot of those bands looked to Antibalas, alongside Fela, as one of their real inspirations."
Through their concerts, tours and recordings, Antibalas have helped re-popularise the classic Afrobeat sound, in the process earning the admiration of a wide array of respected musicians, including everyone from Questlove and David Byrne to Fugazi's Ian MacKaye and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Much in demand as collaborators, they've performed as a band in the studio and on stage with such artists as Medeski Martin & Wood, The Roots, Public Enemy, Paul Simon, Amadou and Mariam, and Fela's son Femi Kuti, to name a few.
In 2007, following the release of the band's last album, Security, Antibalas's Afrobeat expertise led to the involvement of several band members including trombonist Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean, who respectively served as musical director and assistant musical director in Fela!, Bill T. Jones's musical which was based on the life of Fela Kuti, which eventually went on to a successful Broadway run, earning 11 Tony Award nominations and three wins.
But Fela! wasn't the only thing keeping Antibalas busy between Security and sessions for the new album.
In addition to playing about 50 shows a year across the globe as Antibalas, the band's members have individually recorded and/or performed with TV on the Radio, Iron and Wine, Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, The Roots, Angelique Kidjo (whose 2007 album Djin Djin earned the Antibalas Horns a Grammy Award), Ornette Coleman, David Byrne, MiikeSnow, St. Vincent, Gomez, Wale, Spoon, The Black Keys, Imogen Heap, Lee Fields, Melvin Gibbs, Sugar Minott, Patti Smith, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars and The Budos Band.
At the same time, they have devoted ample time to their (and each other's) side projects like Ocote Soul Sounds, Superhuman Happiness, Piano Music & Song Trio, Chico Mann, and Fu-Arkist-Ra.
Above all, Antibalas just want to spread the gospel of Afrobeat throughout the world and say their group dynamic is what makes Antibalas so special.
"We love this Afrobeat, it's important to us, it's not appreciated enough and making it is a transformative process in so many different ways," says Perna.
"Unlike most music that's really ego-driven and centred around one person or cult of personality, all of us have had to learn to function with really specified roles everyone becomes a drummer, in a certain sense.
"Our parts may be played on melodic instruments, but they're part of this huge interlocking net that holds up the music."
Antibalas perform at Tanks Arts Centre on Friday, March 1, to kick off the World Music Series 2013. Tickets are $30/$25, on sale now from ticketlink.com.au or 1300 855 835.
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Afrobeat legends: New York's Antibalas. Photo: Marina Abadjieff