Original Article Appeared in the Daily Chronicle Online.
Dave Glines knew he wanted to play afrobeat.
The guitarist and founding member of Chicago Afrobeat Project first found the polyrhythmic blend of traditional African drumming and vocal harmonies, improvised jazz soloing and the blistering high energy of American funk while listening to the pioneer of the musical style – Fela Kuti.
The mix of styles and furious energy spoke to him, and he said from that day forth he would play a style that simultaneously pays homage to the past while forging forward into new territories of musical creation.
Two years later, he and fellow afrobeat enthusiasts started playing music seeped just as deeply in the heritage Kuti nurtured, but also delve into their own diverse tastes. The result is a modern take on afrobeat, adding deeper elements of rock, jazz and house music – all with the goal of making an audience dance with infectious energy.
The band tours with seven members, including Graham Czach on bass, keyboardist Kevin Ford, Angelo Garcia on tenor saxophone, Marshall Greenhouse on drum kit, Garrick Smith on trombone and percussionists Danjuma Gaskin and George Jonen. When performing in Chicago, they share the stage with even more drummers, as well as dancers, making a full spectacle performance.
CAbP released their second self-produced record Oct. 2 titled “(A) Move to Silent Unrest.” The album is a more in-depth stab, compared with their self-titled debut, at balancing the strict regiments of afrobeat while going further into different styles of music. Recorded mostly live and entirely on tape to capture the warmth and feel of their heated performances, CAbP keep moving ahead.
The band will be playing Nov. 7 at Otto’s. Glines talked with the Daily Chronicle about how the band has changed since it was founded five years ago, staying true to the roots of afrobeat while finding their own sound, and explaining afrobeat to people unfamiliar with the style.
D.C.: Let’s say you meet someone who has never heard of afrobeat before. How do you explain it?
D.G.: My five-second elevator pitch is, it’s James Brown circa 1975 meets Africa. Polyrhythmic percussive influence into the most funky music on the planet. People tend to get enough of an idea from that (laughs). Horns, lots of percussion. We have dancers in Chicago that bring out even more energy. That’s the way I describe it. Now for our approach, for me, it’s taking all those elements and adding our own interpretation. The music leans for us at times into jazz and at times rock, but no matter what’s being introduced, it’s 100 percent dance music. The mission is to get as many people on a dance floor as possible. The band obviously responds to that energy, and it hits everyone there.
D.C.: How do you balance staying true to the form of afrobeat while still incorporating your own ideas?
D.G.: It’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck between paying respect to the tradition, even though it’s a fairly new genre, while satisfying artistic intentions. Our approach has been, let’s not completely deny what we are capable of doing and our lives outside afrobeat. We immersed ourselves in Fela for hundreds, thousands of hours, getting the styles down. To do it live, it needs respect. Unlike other afrobeat bands trying to re-create the sound from the very beginning, we didn’t hold that much restraint from injecting our own ideas. We had a strong Chicago house element on our first album. But the newer tunes, not even on this new album, lean more into an edgy, almost rock side. It’s a balance of keeping the music interesting, since we don’t have a prominent front-leading vocalist.
D.C.: What’s it been like to have a revolving cast of musicians playing with the band?
D.G.: From the onset, the idea was, let’s try to make a project that will always have a fluid enrollment of people. A roster. People come in and out, no big deal. As we grew as a band, we realized it is a big deal, it changes the dynamic of the band. Yes, you adapt and have to change and you have to accommodate a new personality, but when it happens all the time, we can’t develop our sound. It wasn’t a case of commitment; everyone was clear and upfront about their roles from the beginning, but now we have a core of seven guys who are really committed. It’s still growing, and people come in and out. It’s difficult at times to accommodate and challenging on the road. But it’s been a lot of fun and challenging to make sure committed personalities are still meshing. It may be a bigger challenge than finding new people to not get lazy and stay on top of our game by simply maintaining the chemistry of the core.
D.C.: Even though this album just came out, are you working on new material?
D.G.: We’re getting to work on a new project. We have an EP recorded already, and hope to have it out in January. In February, we will be recording a bunch of new songs, since we’re not touring as much during that time. We’ll be trying to dig as deep as possible and be as creative as possible. We’ll have the ability to work in the studio with more time. We had only three days to record this entire album, the most recent one. We’re moving into the studio the keyboard player owns, so we’ll have free access any time. Just pop in as ideas strike us. As a musician, it’s our dream.
D.C.: How can you describe your live style?
D.G.: For us, like most afrobeat bands, there’s a 100 percent set structure for the songs. You will probably hear us play the same arrangement, but what will be different is who solos and what part, and the overall energy of the band. It’s based on a gazillion factors – how much rest we have, the audience. No solos are really set, though. For us, keeping it interesting is about supporting a soloist as they perform, feeding on energy and giving it back. It’s equally important that the overall collective sound is hitting and pushing to the audience full tilt.
Benji Feldheim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.