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[Off The Record]
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Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra

Antibalas — Spanish for "bulletproof" — are a 15-piece Afrobeat band out of New York whose music captures the sound and spirit of the genre’s founder and pre-eminent composer, the late Fela Kuti of Nigeria. Call it mimicry if you like, but it’s no mean feat to summon the energy and drive of Fela’s incomparable band, and these guys nail that, composing within the quirky conventions Fela laid out and inserting elements of the New York milieu without distorting the music’s signature character.

Afrobeat leaves lots of room for jazzy free blowing, as in Martin C-Perna’s growling baritone-sax break on "Dirt and Blood" and Jordon McLean’s rowdy but lyrical trumpet work on "Uprising" and "N.E.S.T.A. (Never Ever Submit to Authority)." As these titles suggest, Fela’s famed politics of resistance is here too, but rarely expressed as Fela-esque half-spoken diatribes. Just two of these eight tracks have vocals at all, and on the sly, funky opener, "Sí, se puede," they’re in Spanish. This isn’t a problem — any attempt to equal Fela’s personal presence would likely fall flat. Besides, in all the great Afrobeat recordings, the band and the arrangements really made the sale, and Antibalas have that part down: fat, wall-of-brass horn passages grounded by that ever-present baritone, and layered, polyrhythmic grooves that raise ’70s funk to a spiritual plane. The drums are busier than Fela’s, and the guitarist knows how to rock out. Otherwise, this could be Lagos circa 1980.

(Antibalas perform this Sunday, October 28, at the House of Blues. Call 617-491-BLUE.)


Issue Date: October 25 - November 1, 2001

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