The article was originally published in the Quad City Times.
If the middle name of the Chicago Afrobeat Project sounds unfamiliar to its potential audiences, don’t worry.
It was that way to some of its players at one time as well.
“When the band first started, I had only heard five African songs in my life,” said Marshall Greenhouse, one of the band’s percussionists. “Now, I’ve heard hundreds.”
Afrobeat is credited to Fela Kuti, the leader of the Koola Lobitos, a popular Nigerian band in the style of “high life.” As a college student in Los Angeles in the 1960s, Kuti became influenced by the music of James Brown and the band Parliament, as well as the teachings of civil rights leader Malcolm X. He took the soul and jazz music he had become familiar with and combined it with the music of his homeland to create an Afrobeat sound.
Chicago Afrobeat Project will return to the Redstone Room inside River Music Experience, Davenport, for the fourth time on Friday night. The band also played in LeClaire Park last summer, during the RME-sponsored River Roots Live.
This time, it’s backing a new album that was released in early October, “(A) Move to Silent Unrest.” It’s the second album the band has released, after a debut two years ago.
“With the first one, I could hear more of a rock influence, because we hadn’t been playing Afrobeat as long,” he said.
The band has grown in several ways, Greenhouse said. While establishing more of a foothold in Afrobeat, it also has the freedom to branch out as needed.
“We’ve also tried to develop a sound to not even care if people think it sounds like rock or jazz or Afrobeat,” he said. “We want to do the music we feel like doing.”
The changes in the band have come gradually through the years, he said.
“There’s never been a moment when somebody said, ‘Let’s change and go in this direction,’” he said.
The band has as many as eight members that go on the road. Their ages range from mid-20s to early 50s, but the elder member of the group doesn’t perform outside Chicago, Greenhouse said.
Half of the band members have been with the group for at least four years, and the turnover gives the group some energy, Greenhouse said.
“New people come in and they have new ideas,” he said. “Our goal with the band is to keep it going for a really, really long time.”
Afrobeat can be an acquired taste, Greenhouse said.
“It depends on what you’re in for,” he said. “A lot of people like the music to go out for a night and dance — it’s good party music, but they aren’t necessarily going to go home and listen to the music.”
He doubts that it would ever find a mainstream audience, but wouldn’t discount it.
“I don’t think it can’t get popular, but if it was going to get popular it would have to be because a hip-hop artist came in and sampled Afrobeat songs,” he said. “But people said the same thing about reggae at one point.”