Release Date: Aug 7, 2012
Record label: Daptone
Genre(s): R&B, Funk, International, World Fusion, Afro-beat
It’s impossible to have more fun than listening to an afrobeat record. Go on, try it. NOPE. And the 14 members of Brooklyn’s Antibalas are the best in the business. Yeah yeah, Fela Kuti did it first, but in his absence from the world (due to death) this fifth album of Afro-Latin rhythms ….
Antibalas is the first record in four years by the Brooklyn Afro-beat ensemble of the same name, and is the band's debut on the Daptone label. Label co-owner (and co-founder) Gabriel Roth is a former member of the 11-piece band, and produced not only this date, but their first three albums. In the years between the release of Security in 2008 and this effort, various bandmembers took part in the stage production of FELA!, and Antibalas' urgent sound has undergone a slight sonic transformation.
Afrobeat may not have achieved the global ubiquity of, say, reggae, but 15 years after the death of Fela Kuti, its influence continues to grow. That's thanks, in part, to groups such as Antibalas, a multicultural Brooklyn-based ensemble co-founded by Dap-King Gabriel Roth, who have been a powerful internationalising force for the sound. Their fifth album is rich and intoxicating: billows of brass, sinuous guitar hooks and squiggles of hammond organ bubble up pungently from the stew.
Few bands have been as indebted to a stylistic and philosophical predecessor as Antibalas are to Fela Kuti. Fewer still have been as capable of doing their predecessor justice-- after all, this is the band that was recruited to give some sonic verisimilitude to the original productions of the musical Fela!. And in repaying the stylistic debt they've owed to the originator of Afrobeat for over a dozen years, the Brooklyn band has spent a handful of albums proving that it's an art form that can not only survive but thrive, artistically and politically, outside the context of 1970s Nigeria.
Antibalas’ self-titled fifth album marks a return for the band in many ways, including working again with producer/engineer Gabriel Roth, aka Bosco Man, co-founder of Daptone, Dap-Kings bandleader, and producer of Antibalas’ first three albums. Five years after 2007’s Security, an album that saw Antibalas pushing its limits, the group has also returned to the sound that they helped to re-introduce (at least to American audiences) in 1998, no doubt prompted by various band members working with the Broadway production Fela! in the interim. In the 14 years since Antibalas’ formation, the band has been the torchbearer for a resurgence in the exuberant percussion and poly-rhythmic sounds of afro-beat, which now includes other artists such as Ann Arbor’s Nomo, the Chicago Afrobeat Project, and New York’s Kokolo.
Antibalas has always been a band of great style and prowess. Their furious Afrobeat grooves celebrate the work of Fela Kuti, to the point where many of them were heavily involved in the recent Broadway play celebrating him. This ever-mutating collective has been able to integrate other musical genres as well, including salsa, funk, and hip-hop. But it’s always ultimately boiled down to Afrobeat, and this new self-titled album doesn’t make any attempts to rock that boat; its songs burble and rumble and fly in very much the same way they always have.
Fifteen years on from their creation in a Brooklyn warehouse, Antibalas have become one of the world's finest Afrobeat bands, and proved you don't have to live in Nigeria to play the style created by Fela Kuti. They have mastered the insistent, distinctive rhythms and musical changes crucial to this music, and since the release of their last album five years ago, several members of the band have helped provide the backing for the hit musical Fela! Now they are back, with a classy new set that's notable mostly for the instrumental work; the opening track Dirty Money is a slinky, rousing demonstration of the way they have updated Afrobeat, switching from tight, clattering percussion to equally rhythmic keyboard work and punchy brass, with stirring sax solos from Stuart Bogie. What's lacking, inevitably, is Fela's sense of anger and danger.
Musical democracy in action, an inspiring example of a band practicing what they preach. Paul Clarke 2012 Antibalas were the perfect choice of house band for the off- and on-Broadway runs of the Fela! musical, based on the life of afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti. The 12-strong New York collective has spent the last 14 years spreading Fela’s afrobeat gospel across the globe with all-singing, all-dancing shows packing more energy than most musicals, let alone garden-variety indie bands.
Five years have flown by since Brooklyn's Antibalas dropped an LP's worth of Fela Kuti-inspired polyrhythms. In the interim, its bandmembers have occupied Wall Street, forged a myriad of side projects (Chico Mann, Austin's Ocote Soul Sounds), and supplied a soundtrack for the Fela! Broadway musical, for which trombonist Aaron Johnson served as musical director. Somehow the New York 12-piece is more focused than ever, eschewing the experimentation of 2007's Security for Antibalas' pure, uncut Afrobeat.