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Thursday, April 12, 2007 01:39 am

Shake your badonkadonk

Antibalas brings its version of Afrobeat to the region

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Antibalas Security (Anti-)
Untitled Document Afrobeat, the percolating, polyrhythmic, politically minded big-band dance music most closely associated with the late Nigerian maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti, has always been a fusion form. Rooted in traditional Yoruba music, it incorporated a host of styles from the African diaspora, including American jazz, soul, and funk. Think of it as the silver lining to globalization’s dark cloud, the spoonful of sugar that makes the bitter bolus of neocolonialism go down. In light of this complex lineage, it’s misleading, if not downright insulting, to claim that Antibalas is expanding, or adapting, or corrupting the Afrobeat template. Such arguments hinge on the authenticity canard, the fallacy that Afrobeat is some kind of static, moribund, provincial relic instead of the sluttish, omnivorous, organic hybrid that it is. Fela is dead, of course, so there’s no way of knowing how he’d feel about microhouse or grime or any number of other subgenres that have emerged in recent years, but something tells me he wouldn’t want his beloved Afrobeat to rot in the grave with him. Although corpses don’t get a say in choosing their disciples, it’s highly probable that Fela would give a resounding hell-yeah to Antibalas if he could. The sprawling Brooklyn-based collective, whose name means “bulletproof” in Spanish, currently boasts a dozen players and is legendary for its marathon live shows. Although the band has evolved considerably over its nearly decade-long career, with close to 30 members passing in and out, it has been faithful to Fela’s essential legacy, maintaining an absolute dedication to progressive politics, lockstep musicianship, and ecstatic groove-mongering. Its music is rigorously structured — composed, orchestrated, and conducted — and yet deeply spontaneous, with breaks reserved for improvised solos from featured instruments. The lyrics are serious, at times even preachy, but they’re couched in so much booty-walloping that whatever message they might contain works strictly on the subliminal level; at any rate, it’s easy to forget about the evils of the military-industrial complex when your badonkadonk is shaking six ways to Sunday. Security, the band’s fourth full-length and first for Anti-, is the most experimental effort so far. It still sounds eminently danceable (no danger of Antibalas’ sacrificing its sacrosanct groove), but it’s just about as weird as a party-starter album can be without, well, breaking up the party. Producer John McEntire (Tortoise, the Sea and Cake) refracts the familiar riffs and rhythms through a kind of avant-jazz, post-rock sensibility, smashing old patterns and rearranging the still-recognizable shards into new configurations. The opening cut, the accurately titled “Beaten Metal,” juxtaposes fractious percussion with a funky electric-piano riff, dissonant trumpet blurts with a serpentine bassline. Sometimes it sounds like a Steve Reich composition, sometimes it sounds like underground house music, and sometimes it sounds like being caught in a tin-roofed shed during a hailstorm. The roiling, anxious funk of “Filibuster X,” with its crazy keyboard daubs and stuttering horn bleats, resolves in some very funny speculation about what G.O.P. stands for (“Greedy Old People”? “Guilty of Perjury”?). “Hilo” has overtones of ruminative dub, and “War Hero” counters zippy Afro-pop guitars with call-and-response vocals describing this administration’s murderous foreign-policy agenda. The CD’s strangest cut, though, is also the prettiest. The slow, spooky, intensely contrapuntal “I.C.E.” blends lambent synths and simmering horns into something that approaches contemporary classical music; when McEntire’s hammered dulcimer joins a doleful trombone and distant-thunder drums, the perfectly simple, perfectly devastating result transcends genre altogether. If this is inauthentic, leave authenticity in its coffin.

Antibalas performs on Tuesday, April 17, at the Canopy Club in Urbana and on Wednesday, April 18, at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis.

Contact René Spencer Saller at rssaller@core.com.
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