May 3, 2010

Interview with Marshall Greenhouse from Chicago Afrobeat Project

Afrobeat cannot stand still. As the genre’s tempting sounds continue a resurgence across the globe, Chicago Afrobeat Project (CAbP) remains true to its original vision of breathing the intensity of Chicago’s rich music scene into the infectious sounds of afrobeat. Rather than become caricatures of the genre, CAbP slips a reverent nod to the tradition while delivering an energized originality different from any other band on the afrobeat scene today. At each of its 100+ live performances a year, the group’s frenzied songs hit audiences with a big enough one-two punch to tirelessly knock them onto the dance floor time and time again.

The individual players, coming from diverse backgrounds, each hold their own as soloists that ultimately characterize the live shows. Melodic and hard-hitting horn lines create a lyrical flow to the music, delivered by a cutting, driven rhythm section dynamic. Complex call-and-response percussion songs are dispersed throughout the performances. At select shows, African dancers from Chicago’s Muntu Dance Theatre accompany the band. Added up, the music is packaged with original songwriting that explores the stylistic reaches of afrobeat and a few classic covers delivered true to form.

The interview

How did everyone in the band get together?

The band first started with Tuesday night jam sessions in a loft in the West Loop in Chicago. A few of us had the idea to start an afro-beat band and invited friends we knew to come out.

Who are some of the bands influences?

Marshall Greenhouse: Everyone in the band has their own personal influences but Id say that based on what we listen to during bus rides, we all like afrobeat among other African styles, hip-hop, jazz, electronica, rock,

Some of my personal favorites are: Fela, Femi and Seun Kuti, Miles Davis (all but the electric stuff has really influenced us most), John Coltrane, E.T. Mensah, Extra Golden, Brazilian Girls, King Sunny Ade, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Outkast, Tinariwen, Rage Against the Machine, Vieux Farka Toure, Ali Farka Toure, Wilco, Battles

With so many members in the band, what is the song writing process like?

We get together as a full band once a week to work on writing new tunes and fixing up old ones. Typically one person has an idea and everyone just improvises around until a groove is established. We then talk about what we can add; ie horn lines, break-downs, vocal chants. For about a year we had not settled on a bass player so the song writing really slowed down while we were trying new guys out but we are set now so the new songs are rolling in. A few times in the past we have rented cabins away from Chicago and locked ourselves up for a few days. Thats really helped get ideas down.

When were you first introduced to the afrobeat sound?

I didnt first hear afrobeat until a couple years after Felas death (97). I was first introduced to afro-pop by some college professors and first got into King Sunny Ade- who is also from Lagos and Thomas Mapfumo (Zimbabwe). I graduated college in 98 and I think it was some friends that got turned onto Felas music than then showed me.

Is the band working on any new projects?

We have an EP entitled 'off the grid' thats about to come out, we also have 9 very rough tracks down for another full length album, but who knows that will get finished. The EP is basically the single for Media Man- a tune which appears on our second album, '(A) Move to Silent Unrest'. The EP contains 5 songs: Media Man radio edit, Media Man remix an 3 new tunes. We also might have some vinyl of all remixes coming out.

What is your favorite place in Chicago to perform?

We have played this festival called Summer Dance a few times that is really great. Over the years Id say my favorite two clubs in town to play, the Note and the Hothouse, have both closed down. I guess as of now we are really looking to find that club that we can call home.

Outside of Chicago, where do you like to perform?

I'd say some summer festivals have been great like High Sierra and some fests we played out in Utah and northern California. As far as cities to play, I really love Lawrence, KS, Madison, WI and of course New York City.

How many shows do you play in a year?

Not really sure, maybe somewhere between 100-150. I know thats a big diff but I cant really judge. We play most weekends and do longer tours ever 6 weeks or so.

Are you all full time touring musicians or do you still have day jobs?

We all still have full-time jobs. traveling around with minimum 7 players, with the price of fuel and hotels, and how little clubs actually pay bands, its pretty impossible to make enough money to support yourself in Chicago. The sad news is, really no matter how much bigger we get we will all still need an income outside of this band. we all do this because we love the music and the message and want to spread it around to new audiences all over the world. So back to the question, my job...I am a teacher. I teach percussion at a middle school here in Chicago and teach private lessons at a few schools and at my house.

What was your first concert you ever went to? First album you ever bought?

First concert was Jethro Tull at the Omni in Atlanta. Can't really remember my first album but I do have good memories of listening to a Twisted Sister record, the Thriller cassette and tons of Kiss albums.


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