Honoring Afrobeat

Chopteeth Afrofunk Band - Live
Chopteeth Afrofunk BandLive(Grigri Discs Grigri003, 2010)

Alma Afrobeat EnsembleToubab Soul (Amphora Records AR1001, 2010)

Two recent Afrobeat releases are by bands based in the United States and Spain, Chopteeth and Alma Afrobeat Ensemble. Chopteeth Live presents the vitality of Washington D.C.’s Afrofunk dance band Chopteeth. This large ensemble has a killer brass section backed by fiery percussion.

Chopteeth’s influences go beyond Nigerian Afrobeat. In addition to performing pieces by Afrobeat legends such as Fela Kuti and his son Femi Kuti, Chopteeth plays compositions by African legends from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Congo, including Orchestra Baobab, Tabu Ley Rochereau, and Peter King.

Although most people identify Fela Kuti as the creator of Afrobeat, there were other musicians who played an essential role. Nigerian jazz player Peter King is such a case. His shows were so popular that he rivaled Fela Kuti’s events. Chopteeth loved King’s tune “Freedom Dance.” They tried to locate King for copyright clearance. After a month’s worth of calls to Nigeria, Chopteeth bassist Robert Fox finally connected with King on the phone. “I told him who we were and that we wanted to do a version of his song, and to arrange permission and payment,” Fox recalls. “He was really cool about it. It was an honor for us, to get his blessing, and give him the due he deserves.”

Chopteeth’s intention is to bring back the feel of a big band to dance clubs. “The truth is people don’t often hear big bands playing dance music live anymore,” muses Fox. “You hear a song like Fela’s ‘J.J.D.’ in person, and it just feels different. It’s a shocking experience for the audience.”

The band pays tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington, Although most music fans would not associate him with Afrobeat, the piece selected by Chopteeth, ‘Didjeridoo,’ has an African connection. It was composed after Ellington toured Africa in the 1960s as a musical ambassador for the United States. Trombonist Craig Considine used his circular breathing skills to simulate the drone of a didjeridoo. “There’s a low A note that some saxes get and some don’t,” explains Michael Shereikis with a laugh. “If your horn doesn’t go there, you can stuff something in the bell. Mark Gilbert, our tenor sax player, stuffed his big fist into the horn of the baritone sax to get that low note. They practiced in the dressing room and it worked. It made quite the impression on stage.”

Alma Afrobeat Ensemble - Toubab Soul
Alma Afrobeat Ensemble is based in Barcelona (Spain) and was formed by composer and guitarist Aaron Feders as a tribute to the music of Fela Kuti. The Chicago native moved to Barcelona in 2006, forming a second incarnation of the band, which includes European, South American and African musicians. Toubab Soul is the first album by the band.

Toubab Soul combines Afrobeat with hip-hop and reggae. “In parts of Africa, the word ‘toubab’ means ‘white man,’ but the musicians on Toubab Soul are actually come from across the globe. All of them are musically like-minded, as well as in other ways, and we’ve come together under the flag of Afrobeat and the principle of social justice through music,” says Feder.

Alma Afrobeat Ensemble includes percussionist John “Kwame” Adzraku, bassist Fernando “Dinky” Redondo, trumpeter Audun Waage, saxophonist Gonzalo Levin, guitarist Octavio Hernandez, percussionist Tato Sassone, keyboardist Oscar Bayester and rapper Babacar “Baba” Gaya. Special guests on Toubab Soul include saxophonist Kike Perdomo, reggae singer Rasta Glover, rapper Krukid and kalimba player Seydu (Sierra Leone).

While Alma Afrobeat shows that it is an energetic and promising Afrobeat act with a vibrant rhythm section and skilled soloists, I could have done without the rapping.

Chopteeth recordings available:

Alma Afrobeat recordings available:

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