Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra

Liberation Afrobeat, Vol.1
Ninja Tune

A couple of years ago, a record came out that sounded like a lost collaboration between James Brown and Fela Kuti. Bristling with off-kilter African horn harmonies and bubbling with tight syncopated funk, the Daktaris' Soul Explosion (Desco) came simmering out of your speakers raw and unpolished with a scratchiness that sounded as though the disc really was recorded in a sweaty studio in Lagos, Nigeria, as the liner notes claimed. The thing was, it was a hoax. The Daktaris were from Brooklyn, not Nigeria. The lo-fi analog-sounding recording quality was a faithful re-creation and tribute to Fela Kuti's masterful trance-inducing Afro-beat records of the Seventies. The geography did not matter one bit: You can't fake the funk, after all, and whoever the Daktaris were (or weren't), they had it in spades.

The seeming one-offness of the album dimmed the chances for a followup. But now, lo and behold, the Daktaris are back. Sort of. Formed from the wreckage of the Daktaris and another Desco band, the Soul Providers, the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra extends the Daktaris' Afro-beat revival, crafting long Afro-funk workouts that are barely contained on their debut disc, Liberation Afrobeat, Vol. 1. Led by conductor/baritone saxophonist Martin Antibalas, the Antibalas Orchestra takes its cue from Fela Kuti's superelongated funk vamps that rarely strayed from their opening riff, rumbling through tunes that gather momentum over eight or nine minutes. It's not perfect (some of the horn soloists run out of ideas well before they run out of notes) but Afro-beat has never been about precision. Rather, on the best tracks -- "N.E.S.T.A. (Never Submit to Authority)," "Dirt and Blood," and the live "Musicawi Silt" (the lone Daktari holdover) -- the torrent of interlocking guitar patterns, percussion, and multisectioned horn harmonies blast the Antibalas into the stratosphere of heavy groove music. This is stuff for dancing all night.

Of course with a title like Liberation Afrobeat, Vol. 1, the Antibalas aim to be more than a dance party, and they aren't shy about wearing their vision of a better world order on their sleeve. Formed as a "cooperative entity," the Antibalas hope to inspire others to live free of corporate and government control by example. That's a tall order, but the group goes a long way toward freeing our asses. We can only hope our hearts and minds will follow.

 
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