Antibalas - Security
(ANTI-) Keith Boyd 03.319.07
Okay, I just want to get this out there from the start, I LOVE Fela. Fela Anikulapo Kuti was an amazing artist, musician, shaman, focal point and zeitgeist creator from Nigeria who invented Afrobeat music in the late 60's and early 70's. His life was such an intense coming together of so many threads of African and Black consciousness that the Nigerian government were constantly jailing him and making attempts on his life. He was the ultimate modern expression of the forces inherent to the ancient African gods. These same Gods having been made to suffer for centuries under European oppression and slavery were simmering just beneath the surface and when they were given voice by Fela at his Club/Compound/Religious Center, "The Shrine" people responded in droves. Amidst this uncompromising political/artistic life Fela managed to produce an incredible amount of fantastic albums, most of which are only now getting their proper acclaim in music history.
Afrobeat is a fusion of jazz, James Brown funk and traditional African chanting. It is characterized by having African percussion, vocals and musical structure along with Jazz and Funk horn sections. The musicians create an endless groove in which a foundation of drums, muted guitar and bass are repeated throughout the song. This is a common technique in many different styles of African music and can also be heard in modern day Hip-Hop. One of the key elements often present in Fela's music are the call and response lyrics. Often sung in Nigerian Pidgin or Yoruban they call for government to meet the needs of the people. Most songs were well over the ten minute mark and many reach up to twenty or thirty minutes. What comes across mostly is a deep seated and righteous indignation at all systems of control imposed on people from above.
So that's Fela and his Afrobeat. But what about its legacy? Did this vital music and movement just stop when Fela died of complications from AIDS in 1997? No, not by a long shot. The music did go through a stretch of underground status but there were heads out there digging it, spinning it in DJ sets and learning the chops. In the late 90's through the early ought's most of Fela's catalog was re-released and it turned a whole new generation on its head with the power and message. Remix CD's of Fela's music came out. His son Femi took up the reigns of his Dad's sound and the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra released their first CD.
Based out of Bushwick in Brooklyn New York , Antibalas is a collective of mixed-ethnicity musicians and activists. Since their debut with 2000's, "Liberation Afrobeat Vol. 1" they've been churning out concerts and CD's with increasingly more radical and leftist politics. Well known as a live powerhouse, their CD's while enjoyably capturing the syncopation, tonality and energy of classic Afrobeat all tended to sound a touch flat. As if by being so steadfast in their devotion to imitate the masters they had sacrificed the will to make the music grow or bear their own imprint too heavily. 2004's, "Who is This America?" was the first time they began to turn this around. By focusing on current politics in an overt way and adding elements of Hip-Hop to their sound they came out with a real winner. Now we have their new disc, "Security" and it's just amazing through and through.
This time out they've hooked up with musician, producer extraordinaire John McEntire. McEntire is perhaps best known for his excellent and ground-breaking band Tortoise but he's involved in more projects and than most musicians are over their lifetimes. In fact his multi-headed approach has been influential itself. In the wake of the many Tortoise offshoots and collaborations there has been a real rise in groups being mutable rather than static. On Security he is listed as producer and engineer but you can feel his influence all over the place. He's taken the strengths of Antibalas and filtered them through his own jazz inflected, Krautrock sensibilities. The results are magick! The music is punchy and delightful with weird forays into clanking metallic hypnosis. The politics are even more to the forefront this time and the use of Fela-style talk singing to speak to such issues and situations as the WTO, the new arms race and the true meaning of "homeland security" are just excellent.
We're seeing the real blossoming of Fela's legacy here. It's using some of the old sound strategies to move boldly forward. The whole damn disc is so danceable too! And as Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want your revolution!" Kudos to ANTI for being the brave label they are and releasing some of the coolest, varied and forward thinking music going.