Anitbalas’ Afrobeat Alchemy at the Kimmel

Alchemy is an ancient art that concerns itself with, among other things, the transformation of base metals into gold. Popular recipes included varying proportions of silver, copper, tin, and other substances; not surprisingly these failed to produce authentic nuggets.

Nowhere in the alchemist’s recipe book does one find bari sax (or other necessary brass), snaking bass lines, congas, shakere, funk guitars, and endurance reaching near Samuel L. Jackson levels. All of these were in ample supply when the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra played the Kimmel Center’s Perelman theatre on Thursday.  Follow me after the jump for the full review.

It’s hard to over-estimate how tight Antibalas is live. While the majority of present-day dance music has an electronic foundation Antibalas creates a thick hip magnetizing funk without the aid of laptops or MPCs. Watching ten people organically create such powerful, sophisticated, and danceable music is a rare pleasure.

Antibalas has been at the helm of the afrobeat renaissance and is in large part responsible for the emergence of afro-beat in the new vocabulary of hip-hop. The cyclical fetishes of hip-hop production are well known and are, for the most part, uninspired (e.g. the Indian sarod loop that was in everything for like a year, rapping over Daft punk songs). Antibalas and groups like them have been shining a light on where some of the future’s most vital hip-hop may reside.

The evening’s set included jams on tunes from throughout their five album catalog but mostly from Security [Anti, 2007]. They also threw some new tunes in their set and closed with an atomically funky Fela jam.

Fans of Fela would be proud, in fact, Fela himself would be proud, which should be the only criteria in judging a solid gold afrobeat show.


7 Gengetone Acts You Need to Check Out

The streets speak gengetone: Kenya's gengetone sound is reverberating across East Africa and the world, get to know its main purveyors.

Sailors' "Wamlambez!"Wamlambez!" which roughly translates to "those who lick," is the cry the reverberated round the world, pushing the gengetone sound to the global stage. The response "wamnyonyez" roughly translates to "those who suck" and that should tell you all you need to know about the genre.

Known for its lewd lyrics and repetitive (often call and response) hooks, gengetone makes no apologies for belonging to the streets. First of all, most artists that create gengetone are grouped into bands with a few outliers like Zzero Sufuri riding solo. The songs themselves often feature a multiplicity of voices with screams and crowds coming through as ad libs, adding to this idea that this is definitely "outside" music.

Listening to Odi wa Muranga play with his vocal on the track "Thao" it's easy to think that this is the first, but gengetone fits snuggly in a history of sheng rap based on the kapuka style beat. Kapuka is onomatopoeically named, the beats have that repetitive drum-hat-drum skip that sounds like pu-ka-pu-ka-pu. Artists like Nonini were asking women to come over using this riff long before Ochungulo family told them to stay home if they aren't willing to give it up.

Here's seven gengetone groups worth listening to.

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