Aug 17, 2012
Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra - Antibalas ... some reviews
Antibalas’ self-titled fifth album marks a return for the band in many ways, including working again with producer/engineer Gabriel Roth, aka Bosco Man, co-founder of Daptone, Dap-Kings bandleader, and producer of Antibalas’ first three albums. Five years after 2007′s Security, an album that saw Antibalas pushing its limits, the group has also returned to the sound that they helped to re-introduce (at least to American audiences) in 1998, no doubt prompted by various band members working with the Broadway production Fela! in the interim.
In the 14 years since Antibalas’ formation, the band has been the torchbearer for a resurgence in the exuberant percussion and poly-rhythmic sounds of afro-beat, which now includes other artists such as Ann Arbor’s Nomo, the Chicago Afrobeat Project, and New York’s Kokolo. Blending in elements of Cuban Son, American soul, and Latin dance rhythms with a smart, savvy approach to political and social protest, Antibalas evolved the sound while keeping the spirit of the genre’s forefathers (artists like Kuti, Tony Allen, and Sonny Okosun). That spirit of unrest is very much alive on Antibalas.
With only six songs and coming in around 45 minutes, Antibalas explodes out of the gate with rolling percussion and doesn’t let up until the last crash. Afro-beat is partially defined by every element maintaining a rhythm and groove unto itself while simultaneously being part of the whole. This is best exemplified by album closer “Sare Kon Kon (Running Fast)”, a song that certainly lives up to its parenthetical title as well as showcasing Antibalas’ exceptional musicianship.
However, afro-beat is not defined by poly-rhythms alone, but also by the message it wants to convey — a message that seeks to expose corruption and injustice. Even the title of single “Dirty Money” points directly at current issues. Band founder Martin Perna has suggested that it could indeed be seen as “taking a dig” at the current global financial crises, but the song speaks to a more universal truth – the self-destructive nature associated with money’s seductive power. That self-destruction is thematically carried over on “The Ratcatcher (Di Ratcatcha)”, a song whose protagonist, in his desire to catch a rat, builds a trap so large that it not only continues to attract more rats but traps himself inside as well. By using such straightforward metaphors, Antibalas allows its message to cross over to any walk of life, and that global awareness helps keep them true to the spirit of the music.
And while some have criticized Antibalas for lacking the anger and danger often associated with the genre’s founders, it must be remembered, to slightly misquote Roy Ayers, “[They] live in Brooklyn, baby.” Yes, there is enough injustice and corruption to incite anger in any American actually paying attention, but Kuti had an army breaking down his doors regularly. While Williamsburg hipsters may be in danger of getting their asses kicked by Bronx residents, Brooklyn will always be tamer than 1970s Nigeria.
consequenceofsound.net, written by Len Comaratta
Antibalas were the perfect choice of house band for the off- and on-Broadway runs of the Fela! musical, based on the life of afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti. The 12-strong New York collective has spent the last 14 years spreading Fela’s afrobeat gospel across the globe with all-singing, all-dancing shows packing more energy than most musicals, let alone garden-variety indie bands.
But although they’ve performed plenty of Kuti covers, their own material has proven Antibalas to be much more than a tribute band. While there’s no shortage of bands capturing the sound of afrobeat, few have also captured its fury. Yet Antibalas’ previous albums, such as 2002’s Talkatif and 2004’s Who Is This America?, carried a righteous ire within their riotous grooves.
And this is a trait that, pleasingly, hasn’t been quelled by their brush with Broadway. The English lyrics of Dirty Money and The Ratcatcher, as well as the equally impassioned-sounding Yoruba words of Ari Degbe, indicate that the band’s fires are burning as brightly as ever on this fifth album.
Their Fela! experience has had some influence, though. Musical director Aaron Johnson might have talked about the difficulty of translating Kuti’s 20-minute tracks into five-minute snippets for the stage, but it’s a process that seems to have resulted in the leanest and most focused Antibalas album yet.
They still only get through six tracks in 45 minutes, but whilst the horns of Him Belly No Go Sweet are as blazing and jubilant as ever, they’re driven by a much tighter rhythm section. On the nimble breakbeats of Sáré Kon Kon, this element bears more than a passing resemblance to drum ’n’ bass.
Yet Antibalas’ release feels timely for more reasons that just the resurgence of interest following Fela!. Beyond their lyrics, and the video to first single Dirty Money, Antibalas’ music embodies the principles of grassroots revolutionary movements like Occupy as the disparate voices of guitars, brass and organ all move in one unified direction; each having their say without drowning out their companions.
Antibalas is musical democracy in action, and an inspiring example of a band practicing what they preach.
bbc.co.uk, written by Paul Clarke
Antibalas has always been a band of great style and prowess. Their furious Afrobeat grooves celebrate the work of Fela Kuti, to the point where many of them were heavily involved in the recent Broadway play celebrating him. This ever-mutating collective has been able to integrate other musical genres as well, including salsa, funk, and hip-hop.
But it’s always ultimately boiled down to Afrobeat, and this new self-titled album doesn’t make any attempts to rock that boat; its songs burble and rumble and fly in very much the same way they always have. But in the five years since their last work, 2007’s Security, they seem to have acquired a new lean fighting shape—and this is a great thing.
For one thing, Martín Perna has decided that he is no longer interested in shapeless 12- or 14- or 20-minute jams; Fela could always pull this kind of thing off, but Antibalas’ similar efforts always got a little wearying. Instead, here they kick off with the six-minute scorch of “Dirty Money.” British-Nigerian vocalist Amayo rides the funky organ-led groove, supplying just enough class-conscious bite in his voice to make the point and then letting the band make his point for him.
The trend continues throughout the first half of the record: shorter songs, tighter grooves, pinpoint observations. “The Ratcatcher” is the finest single track they’ve made, a hellacious groove coupled with a folktale about a guy whose success turns out to be a trap. Not exactly subtle, but a lot less hit-ya-over-the-head than the band has been in the past. The ambiguity suits them just fine.
On the album’s second half all the song titles are in Nigerian, as are the lyrics. Not to put too fine a point on it, but these songs don’t lose any of their power even for those of us who do not understand that beautiful language. “Ibeji” provides not one but two indelible rhythms, and “Sare Kon Kon” is a total stomper that makes the most of its eight minutes through concentrated power.
Does any of this mean that Amayo’s lyrics (and by extension the band’s political attack) are unnecessary? No, it just means that there are some things that are timeless in their power. It also means that Antibalas is finally, like their name in Spanish, bulletproof; even if you don’t understand what they are saying, you GET it on some deeper level.
popmatters.com, written by Matt Cibula
In the five years since Brooklyn-based Afrobeat revivalists Antibalas last released an LP, the band’s been plenty busy, with some members guesting on friends’ albums, and others working on the arrangements and performance of the musical Fela!, about the life and career of Nigerian musician/activist Fela Kuti. Taking to the stage doesn’t seem to have had any effect on Antibalas, except that the band’s new self-titled album sounds even more like Kuti than ever. But frankly, Antibalas’ style hasn’t changed much since he group released Liberation Afrobeat Vol. 1 back in 2000: Founder Martin Perna still leads a dozen or so horn players, percussionists, and guitarists through polyrhythmic, deeply groovy dance tracks, punctuated by call-and-response political sloganeering and African phrases. If anything, Antibalas is more of a “square one” album than Liberation Afrobeat. The title is not incidental.
Reunited with former member Gabriel Roth—best-known as the head honcho at Daptone Records and the leader of The Dap-Kings—Antibalas retreat from the experimental bent of 2007’s John McEntire-produced Security and get back to the sound of a big group of musicians in a single room, trading licks. But what initially sounds like simple jamming reveals itself on repeated listens to be incredibly complex, as Antibalas shifts gears within songs, building up to eruptive, jazzy horn-blasts. The effect of the album as a whole is like taking a long trip through the world of today, from the ironically peppy survey of economic inequality in the opener “Dirty Money” to the frenzied closer “Sare Kon Kon,” which starts fast and then gets even quicker, reflecting the breakneck pace of modern life. The music is retro, but in no way outdated. This is “world” music for our increasingly globalized times.
avclub.com, written by Noel Murray
Antibalas is a very exuberant performance, and one that exhibits a wide variety of influences. Most of the compositions emphasize on an agile rhythmic groove that exudes an irresistible dancing allure, but there are also several occasions were we find the musicians dwelling into elaborate improvisatory moments of Jazz-influenced soloistic musicianship. The album opens with "Dirty Money", and the music begins to flow on a funk influenced melodic framework established by the piano and guitar sections. As the music ensues, the wind instruments begin to flourish as they decorate the melodic theme with eruptive solos so as to direct the song into a more free-form Jazz environment.
The musicianship is absolutely impressive throughout the entirety of the album. We can really see Antibalas expanding on the growing enthusiasm its predecessors had on Afrobeat and World music. Though these influences are present throughout the album, "Him Belly No Go Sweet" and "Ìbéjì" are perhaps the most eminent moments in the album when Antibalas transcend beyond Jazz and embrace the habitual sounds of a variety of cultures. Blending African singing, tribalistic percussions, and the harmonic sensuality of salsa into an ineffable elixir of enticing rhythmic medleys.
Songs like "The Ratcatcher" and "Ari Degbe", on the other hand, show Antibalas returning to a more traditional Jazz routine. Martin Perna and Stuart Bogie assert dominance over the other instruments with their respective baritone and tenor saxophones. Each taking their turn to release a series of intensive solos that innovate the rhythmic framework as they pioneer into their own melodies. Antibalas is a highly entertaining and artistically impressive Fusion release. The album doesn't necessarily explore any new styles that haven't already been covered by early defining Fusion contemporaries like The Weather Report and Herbie Hancock, or renowned Afrobeat artist, Fela Kuti, but it does provide one fascinating performance that will be sure too keep any Jazz enthusiast hooked for days.
sputnikmusic.com, written by Hernan McKennan
t’s been 5 long years since the last album from Antibalas, NYC’s foremost Afrobeat ambassadors. Since then, they’ve passed the time with a few endeavors- a side project or two, some woodshedding, helping a few friends with albums and, lest we forget, the massive Broadway hit FELA!. In that musical, they assumed the role of Fela’s backing band, cutting down the genre’s notoriously lengthy live workouts to the far stricter demands of the stage. On the heels of that triumph, the band has returned with a new self-titled LP on Daptone Records, on which they present six funky, rhythmic jams perfect for a (new) nation of afrobeat fans to chew on.
Recorded at the Daptone’s House of Soul studios with the help of Gabriel Roth, an old producer and band member, the new album sees the band reconnecting with their roots, welcoming founding members back to the fold (Roth is joined by founding guitarist Luke O’Malley) while kicking out the jams with an album of remarkably straight-up afrobeat.
Given the dictates of the genre, this means that the album is beat heavy, with a thick layer of percussion matched and tested by the polyrhythms and counter-parts generated by a host of sound makers. This kind of density is one of the benefits of the size of the group. The 12-piece band is able to support numerous syncopated parts, laying down a solid foundational drive, and never straying from this musical interstate once it is established. “Rhythm is what make a good Afrobeat record,” says Gabriel Roth, and Antibalas takes this dictum to heart, employing every instrument in the service of the all-powerful grove.
But it comes at a cost. While the album gives its listener a healthy dose of afrobeat goodness, ultimately it’s just that. Don’t expect anything groundbreakingly new. While the members of Antibalas are as tight as ever, playing with a power and intensity that few modern-day afrobeat bands can match, its hard not to hear something a bit tired in this album’s single-minded focus on the form. As a result, the tracks lack much variation, and the breakdowns and solos (many of which are surprisingly confined) begin to seem predictable.
That said, the album definitely has a number of stellar moments. The initial single,“Dirty Money,” is politically-inclined gem, kicking off the album with a warm, organ-lead jam filled with celebratory horn skronk and the powerful vocals of Amayo, the group’s singer. It is also among the records most topical tracks, excoriating the corporations that profit at the expense of the workers during the current “Great Recession.” Connecting Fela to Occupy, it is the closest that Antibalas comes to matching the fire of the master. Other album highlights include “Him Belly No Go Sweet,” which features powerful horn hits, an exciting use of space, and tight percussion. While “Sare Kon Kon,” is another explosive jam filled wild horn races and a catchy melody.
While Antibalas has long had a significant audience, their role in FELA! brought the band to the international mainstage at an altogether different level. This has given them the opportunity to present afrobeat to a wide-ranging, international audience. While Antibalas does not explore any new territory, it is a excellent synthesis of the classic style, capturing the essence of the funky, Nigerian jam that is afrobeat.
afropop.org, written by Julia Chanin