Jan 7, 2010
The Afrobeat Diaries ... by allaboutjazz.com (Pt.VI)
Akoya Afrobeat- P.D.P. President Dey Pass
Among the spin-off benefits which are following the success of the hit Broadway musical Fela!, and the attendant media interest in Afrobeat, is the revitalization of the Brooklyn band Akoya Afrobeat. Formed in 2002, Akoya was off radar for much of 2009, while its members were involved in other projects, but it is once again performing regularly in the New York area. Which makes this an appropriate moment to remind readers of the band's outstanding P.D.P. President Dey Pass, its second and most recent album, released during the final death throes of the Bush presidency.
Two years later, P.D.P. still stands as the most credible and exciting set of Afrobeat to be recorded in the USA since Kuti's death in 1997. The music is authentic in every detail—from the crucial (but these days often neglected) tenor guitars, twin baritone saxophone-anchored horn section, call and response vocals, retro-modern keyboards, Tony Allen-inspired drums and percussion, and politically focused lyrics. In this respect, the band is fortunate to have in its lead vocalist, Kaleta, a veteran of Kuti's Egypt 80 band.
But the album is much more than a revivalist exercise. For a start, it's put together by a group of musicians all of whom, it is obvious, feel Afrobeat deeply: the band inhabits the music rather than simply assembling its constituent parts in a historically accurate fashion. On top of that, the musicians are secure enough in themselves to stretch the envelope from time to time; the album is full of little twists to the basic Afrobeat paradigm which, although Kuti never played them, are nonetheless true to his founding vision. Electric bassist Felix Chen, for instance, plays an ostinato on "Fela Dey" which is a very close relative of the one played by Boris Gardiner on the Congos' "Congoman" from their Lee Perry-produced, roots reggae classic Heart Of The Congos (Black Ark, 1977). The Jamaican connection is continued with the inclusion of Gardiner's contemporary and fellow legend, the tenor saxophonist Cedric Im Brooks, who guests on "Je Je L'Aiye." The horn section, though as at home with the basic Afrobeat riffs structure as the sections in Kuti's Afrika 70 or Egypt 80 lineups, sounds Ethiopian going on late period Sun Ra on "B.F.B.F." and Lalo Schifrin in noir mode on "Wahala."
The cover art of P.D.P. was created by Gharlokwu Lemi, from the 1970s an associate of Kuti's, who designed the original sleeves for such Kuti albums as Zombie (Phonogram Nigeria) and Ikoyi Blindness (African Music International), both released in 1976 and reviewed in Part 2 of this series. Lemi's evocative artwork provides the seal of authenticity.
Hopefully, Akoya Afrobeat will get around to making another album soon. A live set would be very welcome. Meanwhile, P.D.P. is not to be missed.
01. Awa L'Akoya
02. Fela Dey
03. Je Je L'Aiye
04. B.F.B.F. Panama
Source and thanx!
Ever avoid a whole genre of music because the seeming vastness was very intimidating? I used to feel that way about classical music. So many composers/orchestras/conductors to choose from. To the uninitiated, it's tough to take that first step. Once I got over that fear of making a mistake (which now makes no sense to me), I just dove right in. Sure, I picked up a few clunkers where the music did almost nothing for me. Those were balanced by the records that blew me away. Mozart's Requiem comes to mind.
I felt the same way about pop music from Africa. Like the continent itself, there was just so much to investigate. For a long time I bought nothing, fearing the "wrong" selection.
All of that changed when I heard King Sunny Ade on the radio. Ade and his infectious brand of Nigerian "JuJu" music just bowled me over. After that, I was hooked. Enter Ali Farka Tourè and Fela Kuti. Man, my walls just pulsed with this stuff. It felt like I'd just discovered a whole new musical world (I had!), one where infectious grooves and sophisticated rhythms played a much more prominent role in support of the structure and melody — at least when compared to most modern Western pop music.
On P.D.P. (President Dey Pass), Akoya Afrobeat combines the rhythms of the best James Brown with a lot of down & dirty Afro-centric funk and soul. With longtime Fela Kuti Egypt 80 singer Kaleta, drums and percussion, a small army of guitars, and a huge horn section, this is an Afro-pop dance machine to be reckoned with.
High points? It's tough to know where to start. There's the 12-minute ecstatic workout of "B.F.B.F " that begins with interlocked guitar figures and percussion before the horn section explodes to life. "Jè Jè L'Aiyé" sways back and forth between an ongoing guitar/horn conversation (with guest appearance by Jamaican saxophonist Cedric "Im" Brooks) to Keleta's vocals engaging in some beautiful call & response with the backing chorus. The closing "Wahala" features some strutting baritone sax blasts before the funk slow burn takes off.
My absolute favor track from P.D.P is "Fela Dey." At over 13 minutes, it's an Afro-pop/funk/soul raveup that I'd be willing to bet lights a fire on the dance floor. Kicking off with some scratchy, "Sex Machine"-ish guitar and then taken over by that massive horn section, this is exactly the kind of song that turned me on to this (very expansive) genre in the first place. Later on, Keleta and the backing vocalists put the song over the top. This record is so much fun, I'm beginning to think it might not be legal!
If you own no Afro-pop records, P.D.P. is a great place to start. You will not be making a mistake. There's a sweaty joy that flies from each song. Let's face it, what's more fun than sweaty joy?