Nov 5, 2010
Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra: Interview for "Security" album
Antibalas Afrobeat consists of 12 members currently and has just released a new album called “Security”. The instrumentation is two saxophones, two trumpets, two guitars, three rhythm sections, one organ, one bass and one singer.
The band is filled with dedicated musicians who sound amazing going solo, the combination is genius. Funky and jazzy with almost every type of rhythm you can imagine.
Antibalas was formed 9 years ago by baritone saxophone player Martin Perna.
I had the opportunity to sit down with the Martin Perna before the amazing show at the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill.
Congratulations on getting Afrobeat out to people.
Afrobeat is a hard music to push forward because it’s hard to commodify a music that is uncommodifyable because the songs are typically 10 to 15 minutes long and that length doesn’t fit well on commercial radio. Also, the fact that it’s a politically conscious music keeps it out of mainstream radio and so the more mainstream and corporate controlled that mainstream becomes the less chance we have of cracking into it, even though our music is getting tighter and stronger.
The new album is called “Security”; I am going to name off the songs and you say what you want about them. Beaten Metal?
That is a composition by our lead tenor saxophone player Stuart Bogie. It is an instrumental which is inspired by the way armaments like artillery shells and weapons of World War II in Europe were beaten and melted down into musical instruments. The Bible talks about turning swords into plowshares so this is like a similar transformation. A lot of the best metal was used first for weapons and then because it was good metal it was used for musical instruments. My saxophone was made in France in the early sixties so it is very possible that it could have been part of a tank.
That is a expose of the hypocrisy of the Republican party about how they promised us no child left behind and the education system is worse then it has ever been and they promised us clean air and they choked the sky with all these coal fired power plants that they are trying to build so it’s like out own ‘State of the Union’ in Afrobeat form.
It’s almost like a slow romantic groove.
Its about the plight of a soldier and how soldiers are promised all these heroic duties and a lot of times they are just good average guys that are going in mission but the mission is never up for them to decide and they sign up thinking that they are going into do good when they end up following orders and doing horrible stuff. It talks about the complexities of the life of a soldier without necessarily judging the soldier and saying your bad because of a lot of that anti war stuff….it’s evolved and I think a lot of people know that soldiers don’t sign up because they want to go over there and kill innocent people, they are over there to pay for college, there are no other jobs around, they are trying to, in their minds, confront this whole terrorist threat but the united states created the terrorists, the united states built Al Qaeda so the soldiers are trapped in this world of being forced to follow orders and a lot of times the orders are the opposite of what they intended on doing.
That’s another instrumental and it stands for ‘Ice covers England” and it is about the global change we are seeing now.
Another instrumental that is written by our other guitarist Luke O’ Malley.
You guys have gone through sleeping on dressing room floors, using raw eggs to seal up the van’s radiator, and relied on faith that you will get a gig where you land. Do you have any good stories not mentioned here?
It’s evolved. We are a little bit better known but at the same time, operating such a large group really keeps us humble. We roll in these big 15 passenger vans like two to a seat. There is nobody wiping our butts for us. The gigs are better, the crowds are better but eighty percent of it is the same hustle. Crossing borders is always hard, we got stripped searched through Canada, and it was really embarrassing. We are just trying to play conscious music knowing that we are not really part of a solution or anything but knowing that we are part of a larger group of artists in all different genres of music from country to rock and roll to reggae to punk, that see that something is very wrong. America is sick, the world is very sick but America in trying to push its values to the whole world is just accelerating that process, like America has some answers but it doesn’t have all the answers and it pretends like it does. We see all this hypocrisy, the rest of the world is trying to deal with global climate change and America still has people in the white house saying that human beings have nothing to do with the climate change and so we are just trying to put forward a message that you don’t have to screw people over to survive, and we are trying to cultivate a healthy country instead of an unhealthy empire. All these bits of knowledge and stories and links between different groups, we need to connect all these people and hold them responsible for the way they have sold out the country.
Have you seen any discrimination because of your political messages?
Well we haven’t been beaten up by fascist police. On one hand it’s a good thing but on the other hand it shows how strong this machine is that all these journalists and music could come out and expose not just the Republicans but Democrats and show all these corrupt people for who they are, but they are so powerful that the information could be floating and it still doesn’t touch them. I mean it might put Scooter Libby in jail but Dick Cheney is still running and making gazillion dollars. It’s weird.
Has boycotting commercial venues been hard to work around?
The first year we did all block parties and no commercial venues because I didn’t want to start the band out in places that exist to sell drinks. Even this club tonight, they make a certain amount of money off of the bar and what they make at the door is probably a lot less then that. I don’t want to be an alcohol salesman, I mean I drink, I’m not against it but for a group like this and the kind of message we want to put forth we want to start out in community events and work from the ground up.
You guys played Rikers Island Prison Facility(New York’s largest jail facility)?
Prison is a huge industry and it’s been like that for a long time. They’ve been building prisons faster then they could fill them up and sticking people in there while society pays for it, so it was wonderful to be able to go behind the bars and share music with those prisoners and let them know that there are people on the outside thinking about them that were man enough to let us come through.
Plans for the future?
Touring, recording, everyone has their side projects cultivating. I want to get to Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, all places I have been but never with the band. It’s a tricky thing because we don’t have big money behind us so some things take longer to manifest.