Jan 25, 2017

From Minneapolis, USA: Black Market Brass - Cheat And Start A Fight

Founded in Minneapolis during the spring of 2012, BMB came together when two guitar players discovered each other's almost identical craigslist ads aimed at starting a funk band influenced by among other things, the sounds of Fela Kuti, K Frimpong, and King Sunny Ade.

Over the next 3 years the band would relentlessly rehearse, fine tune, and develop their deeply powerful sound. What started as a funk band playing obscure covers eventually blossomed into a creative collective of musicians writing, arranging, and performing original music that builds on the sound of Nigerian Afrobeat by tastefully blending it with other styles. As time went on, the band cycled through players and material before arriving at what would become the permanent lineup and their signature sound.

In 2013 Secret Stash Records released BMB’s debut single to critical acclaim within the collector and DJ communities. The bible of all things funky, Wax Poetics, declared the record to be “Heavy Nigerian Madness.” Flea Market Funk raved “This is some authentic music right here people, recorded in the United States. Inspired by the likes of The Funkees, The Black President, and Moussa Doumbia as much as James Brown and The Meters, this Twin Cities dozen (and sometimes more) is shoveling out their musical path with their unique sounds.” The entire pressing quickly sold out as Secret Stash shipped copies around the globe while BMB slang copies from the stage after shows throughout the Midwest.

Two years later, after almost non-stop gigging and rehearsing, BMB finally tracked their debut album at Secret Stash’s new recording studio in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. Cut live in one room over the course of 3 days, the recordings jump out of the speakers with an energy reminiscent of the band’s celebrated live shows. About the process, guitarist Hans Kruger says, “This music needs to be recorded live. Everytime we play there are these little connections that are being made between a couple of the musicians. The bass and drums might lock into something that the horn players don’t consciously know about. But while that’s happening, the horn players might find their way to some new interpretation of their parts. You would lose some of that if you went in and tracked everything one at a time. There needs to be room for collective improvisation.” The incredible thing about recorded music is its ability to travel across time, space, and cultural boundaries. The story of Black Market Brass and their debut album, Cheat And Start A Fight, is a testament to that miraculous feat. Recorded in 2015 by the 12 piece instrumental band, it is heavily inspired by the sounds of West African popular and spiritual music from long ago.



Black Market Brass gives Afrobeat a prairie home
The 10-piece Black Market Brass has become an unlikely go-to summer party band in Minnesota.

Last weekend’s packed First Avenue main-room set and the hipster-thronged Red Stag Block Party in northeast Minneapolis were among their favorite shows so far. However, the most telling performance for the 10 members of Black Market Brass in their unusually busy summer actually might have been last month’s more milquetoast gig at Log Jam in Stillwater.

“Seeing a bunch of teenagers and other Stillwater people getting down to our kind of music was kind of mind-blowing,” guitarist Hans Kruger said, admitting it took the band a few songs to win the crowd over.

Continued baritone sax player Cole Pulice, “Some shows, the people don’t really know what to make of us at first. But they see us having a blast on stage, and I think that tells them we’re all in this together to have a good time.”

The Stillwater story hints at how an instrumental Afrobeat band somehow became a go-to favorite for the summer party scene in Minnesota — a group whose music is based around the psychedelic-sounding, rhythmically complex, relatively obscure jazz/funk/fusion sounds of late Nigerian revolutionary Fela Kuti and the rest of his Afrobeat music movement.

Among the other outdoor fests that Black Market Brass has played this year were the Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Festival, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Art-a-Whirl at Bauhaus and the Coup d’état Block Party. The band has one more next weekend, the Borough Block Party outside Borough restaurant in Minneapolis’ North Loop on Sunday (scheduled set time: 1 p.m.).

Quipped the group’s other guitarist, Mitch Sigurdson, “We just show up to every block party and ask if we’re playing.”

Also the guitarist in the popular soul-rock sextet Black Diet, Sigurdson posted a Craigslist ad three years ago that became the big bang for BMB, asking if any other Twin Cities musicians were interested in forming an Afrobeat-flavored band. “There were DJ nights and radios shows, but you couldn’t really go hear this stuff played live anywhere in town,” he recalled.

How a bunch of white, twenty- and thirty-something rock, jazz and soul musicians in Minnesota got into Afrobeat music in the first place is another surprise worth explaining.

Some of them discovered it through modern Afrobeat acts such as the Antibalas Orchestra and Budos Band. Some were simply vinyl collectors who fell in love with the ’70s-era worldbeat records reissued by Minneapolis label Secret Stash Records, which will also release Black Market Brass’ debut album next spring.

The most well-versed among them was probably percussionist David Tullis, an African studies major at Carleton College who traveled to Nigeria on a fellowship-type excursion to study drumming. He can go on long tangents about the music’s complex polyrhythms and other challenging elements.

“It’s hard for a lot of musicians to find their place in this music because there’s so much going on; everything is right there,” said Tullis, who is also the drummer in Black Diet.

Some of the first rehearsals for the bands were spent simply trying to work out musical charts from Kuti’s music for guideposts. “And then we still had to go through the long process of learning our own style and way of playing it,” Sigurdson remembered.

A true group effort

As scholarly as the band members can get about this music — “We really nerd out a lot in rehearsals,” Kruger admitted — they also make it clear they’re in BMB primarily because it’s fun music to play. Many of the songs in the band’s growing bin of original tunes, including “Snake Oil Man” and “Half a Cig,” follow the same repetitive groove for six minutes or more but pick up steam via the feisty, fiery horn parts.

Pulice, who also performs with vintage soul greats Sonny Knight & the Lakers, said Afrobeat “doesn’t follow a normal western music narrative. It’s not broken up into sections, or into solos, like jazz is.

“Good Afrobeat music is not about individual players. It’s about what we can do together, and finding that sort of magical, hypnotic zone as one unit.”

“Hypnotic” could perhaps be taken as code for the heavy marijuana use associated with Afrobeat and reggae music. The band doesn’t deny that there’s an herbal undercurrent to the music, but Tullis pointed out, “There are several people in the band who don’t touch the stuff, and they do just fine.

“Really, it’s about doing whatever you have to do to get in that uninhibited state where you freely dance to the music and just absorb it fully. Plenty of people can do that stone-cold sober.”

Let’s hope that was true of those teens in Stillwater.


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