Jan 27, 2014
Afrobeat Finds its Groove in Argentina with Guanabana!
Guanabana Afrobeat is a quasi-orchestra of local talent that combines a diverse range of musical styles under the umbrella of afrobeat, a relatively unknown genre they are helping to bring to the porteño public one performance at a time.
The 12-person group consists of drummers, saxophonists, trumpeters, trombonists, guitarists, a keyboardist, and more, and it makes up a part of a movement of bands and musicians that are introducing Argentina to Afrobeat. Despite a number of established Afrobeat-influenced acts that have come out of Argentina, including Morbo y Mambo and La Antropofonica, Afrobeat as a genre remains relatively unknown amongst Argentines.
“When we say we play Afrobeat, people don’t know what that is,” guitarist Cristian Lacroix tells me. “They hear ‘Afro’ and think that maybe it has something to do with drums, but in general it is something completely new for them.”
While several Guanabana band members come from a ska background, the band’s current sound brings together other influences from across the musical spectrum.
“I began playing music centred around African percussion along with the funk I had been playing, which was further influenced by Latin American music – from Cuba, Peru, Argentina, and more specifically, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian music,” says Lacroix.
When some people hear Guanabana’s music for their first time, they may recognise what seem like Peruvian, Cuban or Puerto Rican influences, an example of the role African beats and sounds have had in the development of Latin musical traditions. Guanabana’s songs build off this synchronism with African sounds and further incorporate the elements of jazz and funk that make Afrobeat what it is.
The chief influence on Lacroix and his bandmates is Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician and activist who first coined the term Afrobeat in the 1970s. Kuti took elements of North American Jazz, such as the emphasis on the saxophone, and combined them with aspects of Ghana’s Highlife genre and his native Nigeria’s Yoruba music, a drumming-intensive style from West Africa prevalent in Afro-Caribbean music.
Kuti’s legacy – that of a musician as well as of a radical, political figure – contributes much to Guanabana’s identity as a band. In addition to their own material, the band covers Kuti classics, including the nearly 13-minute-long ‘Mister Follow Follow’, a warning against blindly following corrupt leaders.
For members of Guanabana, Fela Kuti is to Afrobeat as Bob Marley is to Reggae, only “much more radical” – Kuti was a socialist, Pan-African activist who, at one point, even attempted a presidential candidacy. His influence on the genre is obvious: Buenos Aires’ first Afrobeat festival, on 15th December, bills itself as a tribute to Fela Kuti and even has a name that reflects his influence, the Festival Latinomericano de Afrobeat (FELA).
At a recent meet, conversation topics between Guanabana members ranged from discussions on the technical features of Kuti songs or about his efforts to use music as a force to “decolonise” Nigerian minds in the face of an oppressive government.
With a reputation to never play a song the same way twice, Kuti had a knack for improvisation, a freedom Afrobeat gets from its jazz roots. Guanabana also likes to set aside parts of their performance to highlight its talent, such as an improvised trumpet or bass solo.
Kuti was also famous for his long compositions; sometimes a song would take 15 minutes to get to the first verse. The members of Guanabana appreciate this form of music making, valuing the love they have for performing over the need for a commercially packaged four minute tune.
However, much as they draw from Kuti, Guanabana still do things their own way. While Kuti was a trained orchestra director and directed his band throughout a performance, Guanabana finds it unnecessary to have a director or leader. In their weekly rehearsals – no small feat for a band with 12 people – the group talks amongst one another and plans how a song will play out in front of an audience.
It is this kind of collaboration, highlighted by a lack of ego and unadulterated love for performing, that makes Guanabana Afrobeat such an exciting band to keep an eye on.
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