231 S.W. Ankeny St.
“The Black President” will be temporarily resurrected tonight at Berbati’s Pan, for one night only.
If you thought I was talking about Eric B. & Rakim, that’s not bad. At least you’re somewhat close. But who I’m really referring to is Fela Kuti, the progenitor of afrobeat, the tripped out musical spiritual leader of radical African politics, the most verbose and sophisticated singer of pidgin English imaginable (or is that an oxymoron?) and one hell of a sax player.
Antibalas Orchestra’s show won’t necessarily feature any circle dances around mystical fires yearning for the gods to give Fela back to the living world, if only for a short while. But this multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-musical and all around multi-talented group will probably be the closest thing these days to experiencing true live authentic afrobeat. Actually, in order to maintain this authenticity, it would be appropriate if there was spontaneous fire dancing.
So what exactly is afrobeat? That’s a difficult question to answer. Essentially, it is a fusion between American funk and African sounds and rhythms. This lively sound meshes advanced polyrhythms with heavy funk basslines layered with screaming horns, clattering pianos and slicing guitar riffs, topped off by revolutionary lyrics.
It’s all put together in a non-traditional song structure, with a heightened sense of improvisation and shifting energies and long, extended jams making you move on a journey to a raw, spiritual je ne sais quoi.
As the truly initiated will tell you, it’s more a state of mind than anything else, of being an individual with freedom of expression, while still thinking communally. Fela definitely celebrated this through his onstage antics and face paint, as well as his representation of the voice of the poor. This often got him in serious trouble with the dictators in Nigeria, who succeeded in bombing his home and killing some of his family members.
Antibalas (which means “bulletproof” in Spanish), along with Fela’s son Femi, is continuing the tradition of afrobeat, right down to its radical politics. “World War IV,” on their Liberation Afrobeat Volume 1 just re-released on Ninja Tune, begins with an introduction denouncing the United States’ war sanctions against nations like Cuba. Sound complicated? It’s really not. As the saying goes, just shut up and dance, and dance you will.
Think of Antibalas as Fela’s equivalent of the JBs – James Brown’s backing band that later continued the funk legacy while Brown himself dealt with his personal problems. Tracks such as “N.E.S.T.A.,” “El Machete” and “Battle of Species” are straight afrobeat, though their style does tend to have more a Latin influence.
Even without Fela’s pidgin English rants and personality, there is enough in Antibalas’ musical creations to make everybody get down. If there is one band that can bring rock-heavy Portland to its feet, it is Antibalas. Bodies are guaranteed to move, along with hearts and souls.
The 14-plus piece band formed in May 1998 with members of Desco Records artists Soul Providers and the Daktaris. Based in the New York City area, with members of varying of backgrounds based in Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx, Antibalas’ lyrics are in English, Spanish and Yoruba, one of the native languages of Nigeria.
For over a year, Antibalas has also hosted Afrocalia, a weekly afrobeat party in New York, while introducing the best variety of African, Latin, and other ethnic-groove bands in the area. With live experience around the world, they are currently on a quick-stop West Coast tour. In the upcoming months, the group will also tour the Midwest and Canada in support of their upcoming album Talkatif out on March 19, while continuing to spread the afrobeat and its message. So people unite, let’s all get down, Antibalas just got into town.