Sep 2, 2012

The Sogo TakeOver

The Sogo Takeover is an Afrobeat orchestra based in Los Angeles.

Their Story

The Sogo Takeover was formed at the California Institute of the Arts in 2009 by guitarist Max Mendoza and trumpeter Greg Zilboorg under the unimaginative name of "The Afrobeat Band". The goal of the seven piece group was to play music Max and Greg had transcribed from the Daktari's album, "Soul Explosion". As weeks passed, the group incorporated material from afrobeat groups such as The Budos Band, Fela Kuti, and Thomas Mapfumo. Bassist Jake Rosenzweig introduced the first original, "Red Overlay" in spring of 2010 alongside the name the group now uses. The Sogo Takeover now plays numerous originals composed by Greg and Jake and its roster has expanded to include 15 members.

Over the last 2 years, The Sogo Takeover has become a crowd favorite for audiences at CalArts, playing recitals, receptions, parties, ceremonies, celebrations, concerts and guerrilla shows in the Institute's classrooms. In recent months, The Sogo Takeover has begun to "play out", taking their sound around Los Angeles area. We're playing all the time and sound tighter than ever. The music has been it's own reward but there's no getting around it: we're broke.

In June 2011 we recorded 10 tracks in the Roy O. Disney Hall at CalArts with the intention of releasing a debut album. The cost of the recording session rendered us flat broke, but thanks to the selflessness of guitarist Eric Klerks, we were able to mix the sessions at no expense to the band. We've been using these recordings to book shows and share our music with the LA world music community. Our next step is to master the recordings at Capitol Records, then independently print and release a first run of the album.

The album will be packaged in a recycled cardboard sleeves which will undergo a process called "screen printing" to be made into beautiful art objects by our collaborator, the artist Sasha Swedlund.


CalArts, party-time on the rise. Stumble upon a horn-dominant, ten-plus-piece band and you’ve landed in the world of The Sogo Takeover that maneuvers between solos, spontaneous duets and sections back into full band pick-ups that blast its audience into shouts, jumps and raised fists. Dance with ease for a full set and feel the emptiness settle when they exit the stage, one they will likely fill again upon another full-fun run-in.

Created by CalArts MFA alum trumpeter and composer Greg Zilboorg and guitarist Max Mendoza in 2009, Takeover has its healthy share of fans and friends: many musicians and many CalArtians, since Zilboorg says that Takeover “is like a sports team with a deep bench consisting mostly of CalArts MFA’s and alums.” As these musicians are active with their own music, bands and other bands, and with Takeover’s philosophy, ‘the more players the better,’ live shows reveal a surprise in the make-up of the band itself, keeping it fresh for its musicians and fans.

The amoeba-life of Takeover reflects its improvisational nature, influenced by Fela Kuti, most notably, and more locally by Alfred Ladzekpo, the Ewe drum master and former CalArts professor. The Sogo, a supporting Ewe drum that can step up to play lead, acts as inspiration for Takeover’s approach: The Sogo Takeover highlights each musician with at least one solo, creating shifts from all party to simply chilling with experimental musicians. The full band bestows a horned-wall while the small sections ease ears into the middle of the stage and rest with the soloist while grooving with the bassist and percussionists who stream non-stop.

The back of the band shines through most in “Red Overlay,” composed by bassist Jake Rosenzweig. Opening with the bass, one trumpet enters, accompanied with clicks from a clave and minimal rolls of the congas. Guitars layer in as the congas build up the beat. Drop in the drum set for a climax before they bust out Sogo Takeover-style: add trumpets, trombones, and saxes in unison before they rest back into solos. Drums and bass can’t help but move feet, making “Red Overlay” irresistibly dance-worthy and reason alone to see them live.

Catching them now is to engage in a process: watching and listening to Takeover not only develop itself, but to witness its size taking over stages, literally, as its instruments reach out from what can feel like a swarm of musicians. This is a statement, one for music more than money since funds are split between 10-15 members, yet Zilboorg says that this allows more creative space and distinguishes them from more income-conscious bands. In line with Kuti’s socialist views, Zilboorg manages Takeover as an egalitarian, adamant that there are no core members because “everybody contributes something that’s missing if they aren’t there.” Focused on generating more seamless transitions, he still insists on creative flexibility for members playing with Takeover for all shows or only a few.

Zilboorg’s philosophy emerges most in his composition of “New War.” Trombones plow ahead as tanks; bari and tenor saxes duck ahead as soldiers with guns, and trumpets scream out as civilians in shock. Yet in this war they dance. They move with a funk in their step and a slide slipped in just for fun. They point out that revolutionary action is living out passion. In their case this is living music and spreading it as inspiration to leap into participation. This music is about stirring the masses into action, union, and yes, celebration because the new war is on, gathering numbers as it marches ahead, carrying the momentum from generations of struggle.


This is a statement regarding the article written above on The Sogo Takeover that appeared in The Eye on 4/3/2012. The Sogo Takeover appreciates the Eye’s journalistic support, but there was one sentence that I felt misrepresented the intention and nature of The Sogo Takeover, and I want to take this opportunity to address these issues. The sentence in question reads as follows:

“The amoeba-life of Takeover reflects its improvisational nature, building in the tradition of Fela Kuti, most notably, and more locally Alfred Ladzekpo, the Ewe drum master…”

“The amoeba-life of Takeover reflects its improvisational nature”: this part of the sentence is true and I have no issues there.

“…building in the tradition of Fela Kuti, most notably…”: somewhat true. Our music owes a great deal to Fela, and there is some kind of historical/sociopolitical/musical relationship but I don’t think we are “building in his tradition”; the social and political context of our music is too different for that. In my estimation, to build on Fela’s tradition, you would need not only to have a band, but to fulfill his legacy as a political voice and leader, which the band doesn’t really do. On top of which, we’re Americans, not Africans, and there is something uniquely African about Fela’s message and style that we should not pretend to imitate. I’m mainly concerned with this because I want to avoid confusion and misperception.

“…and more locally Alfred Ladzekpo, the Ewe drum master”: this is also a tricky one for a few reasons. 1) Alfred’s music is not improvisational. It’s a common misconception that it is, but I remember him specifically making the distinction between what he does as a lead drummer and what we, in the world of western academics, would call “improvisation.” 2) Alfred’s relationship to the band is somewhat less direct than this sentence makes it seem overall.

Here’s my take: What we do in terms of the structure of our music is quite different than the structure of Ewe music in it’s content, style, and how it is composed/taught/and learned by the musicians who play it. The structure of our music does, however, bear similarities because many members of the band have studied with Alfred in some capacity. A few members have studied with him quite intensively, in the percussion section especially. These players bring some quotes/figures from Ewe music into our improvisations, and many of their contributions bear resemblance to what they learned from Alfred in terms of style/phrasing.

It’s important to note, however, that these “Ewe-isms,” if you will, are happening on what I would call a superficial level. To me, that means we use some of the figures, and even some of the instruments, but the overall form of the music in terms of its musicological structure is quite distinct from Ewe music and, indeed, different from African music in general. I think it’s really important that our listeners understand this to avoid misconceptions about our music. What we are doing is not African, it’s American. The truth is, afrobeat is a fishy term, and if I often regret having chosen to classify ourselves in this genre it is because it projects a set of assumptions onto our music that are often hurtful. It was my intent that the use of the prefix “afro” would indicate the recognition of the inclusion of certain afro-centric trends in our music. Our music could not, like almost all North American music, be what it is without the cultural contributions of the people of the African Diaspora. I’d like to doubly emphasize that our music probably has more to do with music of the African Diaspora as it played out in North/South America than with traditional African music. In terms of its economic, social, and political realities, it is 100% corn-fed American. I want to be open about that fact, acknowledge the musicians who came before me who influenced my sound, and give credit and respect where they are due. It seems, regrettably, that instead people take the term to mean that what we do somehow represents African culture, music, or identity, which is patently untrue. The Sogo Takeover does owe a great debt to artists such as Fela Kuti and Alfred Ladzekpo, but we are by no means the keepers of their flame; we have our own fire.


1. Ai Wei Wei
2. New War
3. Red Overlay
4. Musicawa Silt
5. Phrygian Callipygian
6. True Colors
7. Like My Blind Ninja Master Used to Say... (The Keenest Eye Gazes Inward)
8. Blow It Up
9. Loud Thunder

Get the album their @bandcamp page!!!

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