Oct 13, 2009

The Superpowers - Revival Time


The Superpowers is a group of 12 musicians dedicated to continuing the tradition and spreading the message of AFROBEAT music. This society hopes to bring together young and old through music and dance to continue the AFROBEAT vision for social revolution. The Superpowers strive to create a communion -- where people of all backgrounds can unite in collective musical energy and dance, and spread awareness of the political and spiritual messages which fuel the music.
The band, for all intents and purposes, is simply not a band,more a commune of musicians (did we mention that there are twelve of them?), united under the banner of Afrobeat—the multilayered sonic fusion of funk, jazz, and traditional African tribal music, fueled by a “revolutionary consciousness.” The group strives not to act as a band, but an actual society—the model for a better one, or a living breathing active microcosm.

If this sounds heavy-handed, then you probably haven’t heard Adam Clark, drummer and founder of the society in question. A graduate of the New England Conservatory, Clark doesn’t just talk about his music following the group’s live set, he never stops playing it. His words fly off his tongue in rapid succession, rhythmic in their free-form flow, jumping from one idea to the next in musical progression, just like the layered sounds and dance-inducing backbeats of his soulful Afrobeat groove. “One of the things we’ve been trying to do is keep the Afrobeat essentials,” he says, “and work our own melodies and ideas into that and improvise with the forms of the songs.”

His enthusiasm is as manic and precise as his playing, especially when discussing clave, the driving rhythmic pattern and time signature that has roots in traditional Yoruban music, a precursor to the modern Afrobeat sound. “It’s pretty nodal, and sticks to one basic sound,” he says of the basics of the genre. “But that’s where the clave comes in. It locks everything together. There’s so many parts happening, and they’re all simple parts, but they interlock in a way that creates this huge orchestration.”

It’s this human side to the music that carries its inherent theme of revolutionary consciousness. But The Superpowers is an instrumental group, and only sabar player Samba Cisse is of African descent. The origin of the genre itself is attributed to African revolutionary Fela Kuti (a.k.a. the Black President). The group nevertheless maintains this socio-political edge (and keeps it sincere—these are all well-educated, articulate people after all), as it’s simply what inspired the music in the first place.

It’s just inherent, Clark says: “We’ve got ten to twelve people playing on stage. It takes a lot of listening, and you have to put your ego aside. There are solos that happen, but in Afrobeat, everybody is essentially a percussionist. And you’re really trying to play that one part, one way, meditating on that one part. It’s very essential that each person does their one thing to contribute to the greater picture of the song. Even though when you hear the music and it sounds very complex and there’s a lot of sounds going on, it’s really just a bunch of people working together, doing very simple things. And I’m not here to preach, but I think that translates to what society may have to do to really make some changes.”



Superpowers' 2007 release Revival Time is a groovtasticly aggressive Afrobeat album that will leave you dancing from start to finish. Presented by the Boston Afrobeat Society, this nine-piece Afrobeat ensemble is a burgeoning group on the cusp of an even hotter Afrobeat scene. Their nine track release is a tightly arranged pulsing Afrobeat monster fit to be named "super."

The Superpowers are all graduates of New England Conservatory where they came together under the leadership of Adam Clark, the band's drummer and founder. They started playing Fela Kuti tunes and found Afrobeat to be an amazing new medium through which to express themselves as jazz musicians.

While the Superpowers are definitely an Afrobeat band with an aggressive Afrobeat sound, they incorporate elements of several musical styles including jazz, funk, soul, reggae, and rock. Their horn section delivers lines one would expect to hear from Earth Wind and Fire or the JB's over pulsating Afrobeat grooves laid down by their proficient rhythm section. Their guitars and keyboards incorporate the perfect amount of distortion effects to add a psychedelic rock/dub feel.

What's really great about Revival Time is the range the album encompasses. There are slower smooth tracks like "Cosmic Spiral" and "Moonlit Heart" to chill you out, more upbeat lively tracks like "Abbey Rockers #1" and "Abami Eda" to make you dance, and more unconventional, unique sounding tracks like "Revival Time" to give you something you haven't heard before.

What's best about Revival Time is the extent to which it exposes and accentuates the influences and components that led Fela Anikulapo Kuti to create the genre, particularly the American elements of funk and jazz. The rhythm guitar lines are extremely funky as well as the horn lines, but at the same time, the keyboard and horn solos are extremely jazzy. A lot of Afrobeat bands will prioritize staying true to the Afrobeat tradition. The Superpowers aren't afraid to deviate from the accepted Afrobeat sound, and that allows them the freedom to develop a much more unique and interesting style.

Half the Superpowers live in Boston and half live in Brooklyn, so they play a lot of shows in both cities. They tour most of the northeast hitting cities like Providence, RI, Burlington, VT, Northhampton, MA, and stops in between. Their sound is growing, and so is their fanbase as they are at the forefront of a booming Afrobeat scene. Bands like Antibalas and Akoya are spreading Fela's message, and The Superpowers can hang with any Afrobeat band out there. Their horns are tight, their rhythm section rocks, and their attitude and sensibility set them apart from the rest.



01. Revival Time 5:14
02. Abbey Rockers #1 5:39
03. Cosmic Spiral 8:43
04. S.L.D.R. 5:56
05. Moonlit Heart 4:52
06. Rising Tide 8:13
07. Savannah 10:30
08. System Slaves 11:20
09. Abami Eda 9:22

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