Sep 8, 2010

An interview with Afrobeat Down from 2005

Afrobeat Down - The Encyclopedia of Afrobeat

Continuing in the tradition of Fela Kuti, LA-based band Afrobeat Down is spreading the afrobeat vibe of social awareness and funky living.

Having started as a Fela Kuti tribute in 2002, ABD has evolved into a full-blown 11 piece band, which can fluctuate up to 17 members for live shows. Simultaneously a collective and a band, ABD push community over all else and are avid supporters of all afrobeat bands, such as Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra.

Fresh off the stage from playing to upwards of 4000 people on the streets of LA while opening for Ozomatli, Fly’s Jeremy Balius caught up with ABD’s guitarist Matt Sargis to discuss Afrobeat Down history and philosophy.

The interview

In what ways is the notion of community important to Afrobeat Down?

Afrobeat music should be shared; from the community of loyal fans, to the individual bands that are keeping Fela’s legacy alive. We must all join together, not compete with one another. Community is about helping out, contributing, promoting, and most of all, accepting each other as catalysts in the ever changing Worldwide Afrobeat Movement.

Is Afrobeat Down more of a collective of like-minded individuals as opposed to a band?

We are a collective of like-minded people, musically and politically. We also are very much a working, living, breathing band. Each one of us has a unique gift that complements and brings focus to the unit as a whole. We are all great friends…have known each other for a long time… so that always helps when it comes to accepting each other’s creative input and personal preferences.

In what ways has Fela Kuti been the underlying force behind Afrobeat Down?

Fela’s music has always been our focus. We started learning Fela’s songs so that we could start playing out, before we even wrote any original material. The way Fela reached people through his vocals has always inspired us to present our audiences with a message. We desire to spread Afrobeat music all over the world (not just our music, but everyone who is contributing to the movement). This is the underlying force of ABD. Fela created it and we are blessed to be able to continue his legacy.

What charities is Afrobeat Down involved with? Why is it important to give back?

We are involved with Nextaid, Relief International and Save the Children. It is important to help these organizations because of the children. They need our support. There are over 15 million children orphaned by AIDS internationally (95% in Africa). The music we play was conceived in Africa and Fela died of AIDS in Africa just 8 years ago. If we can support the future generations of this world by playing Afrobeat music, then everybody involved benefits.

Please discuss your recordings.

We have done two official recordings (many unofficial “live” recordings). They were both self-released. The first one was used as our demo — it consisted of 3 Fela songs that we recorded in our drummer’s studio. We may officially release it as a collectors’ edition on vinyl later this year. The second album is Lamp of the Body available internationally through cdbaby & iTunes. This one consists of 4 original tunes and 1 live Fela cover. We do most of our recordings live, but usually end up overdubbing vocals and horns.

What has been the most significant event in Afrobeat Down history so far?

The #1 most significant event for us was meeting and playing with Sandra Izsadore (Fela’s great friend and member of the Africa 70). We first shared the stage with her in March ‘04 when she sang ‘Upside Down’ with us. Since then, she has given us her full support. She is an incredibly inspirational figure for the Afrobeat movement worldwide, and we are privileged to have her as a part of ABD. All we are primarily concerned with is continuing Fela’s tradition… if that means playing to an audience of 10 people, that’s okay. As long as we are having fun and being creative.

Who is at the core of Afrobeat Down in terms of songwriting?

I write and arrange most of the original tunes. There is a core group of about 5 musicians (including myself) that collaborate on some tunes. Craig Teigen (Drums), Dave Arrollado (Sax, Flute), David Semien (Guitar) and Fingers Caldwell (Keys).

What messages do you wish to convey through your lyrics and music?

Positivity, acceptance of others, respect for the environment, conscious living, communicating effectively with grounded intentions….oh and….the impeachment of the entire Bush Administration.

Has being a Los Angeles based band had a specific impact on your music?

Being a part of the insanity and chaos of Los Angeles has definitely impacted our music. The Zombie state of plastic selfishness has given us something to fight against. This town is so spread out and oversaturated with artists that promotion gets pretty tough at times. There are thousands of different bands gigging nightly. Getting the word out that there is an Authentic Afrobeat band here in LA has been difficult when, surprisingly, a lot of people don’t even know what Afrobeat is.

What does the second half of 2005 hold for Afrobeat Down?

There is a lot going on for us right now. Although our gigging has slowed down a bit because we are currently working on Album # 3 to be released in the Spring of 2006. Fela Kuti Day Los Angeles will take place in October (huge outdoor event in Leimert Park broadcast on KPFK). This will be our 3rd Annual celebration of Fela’s birthday in Los Angeles (Sandra Izsadore will be joining us on stage). We are looking to leave Los Angeles and play in other cities more frequently as well.

Thanks to all of our loyal fan’s support. If it weren’t for you, we would be nowhere. If you make it out to a show, please introduce yourself, we will be happy to meet you. If you can’t make it, shoot out an email and we will respond personally. Long live Fela! Long live Afrobeat! Aloha!


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