Article Originally Appeared Here: “Recoil Magazine”
Sometimes the hardest part of holding together a band as large as Chicago Afrobeat Project is finding people to play with. The Chicago-based seven- to 14-piece ensemble isn’t near making Phish money, and each member’s paycheck from gigs gets smaller with each additional member.
It’s a problem guitarist David Glines worries about, but only from a musician’s standpoint. When the Afrobeat veterans are able to add more members for a show – he guessed that between seven and 10 would make the trip for the Dec. 13 show at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo – the strength of the performance grows inversely with the size of their paychecks.
“Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to find people that are interested in Afrobeat and understand world music but are also capable of traveling,” he told Recoil.
“It’s kind of hard; if you know anybody, we’re looking for brass players.”
Wikipedia defines Afrobeat as “a combination of Yoruba music, jazz, highlife, and funk rhythms fused with African percussion and vocal styles, popularized in Africa in the 1970s.”
Modern day Afrobeat musicians use one word: “Fela.”
“The first time I heard Fela I was kind of mesmerized by the sound,” Glines said. “It was kind of what I was looking for in a lot of music, and you know, I had come from a blues/rock background… and it was everything I liked about that music plus a little bit more.”
“Fela” is Fela Kuti, the genre’s best-known artist and (most would agree) father. The Nigerian bandleader weaved American styles of jazz and James Brown-influenced funk with his native music, and then added politically charged lyrics aimed directly at the country’s dictator. The music was popularized in the 1970s, but still thrives in many ways today, with American and European artists taking to the genre. Glines said he first heard Fela about 10 years ago.
“It was pretty captivating; it was just the funkiest music I’ve ever heard, and it’s kind of hard not to dance to it,” he said. “You’d have to be a corpse not to dance to it.”
The core of Chicago Afrobeat Project are well versed in Fela, and many of the horn players and previous CABP musicians have played with Fela’s band or his son’s band. But for guys like Glines who hail from the Midwest, it takes a little bit more effort to make Afrobeat work.
“As much as it definitely takes double duty to learn another style and a genre, and you have to be interested in it and have a feeling for the music, there are also roots in America,” he said, pointing to the influence American styles had on Fela. “Music is not standing still, and it’s always going to be influencing different cultures. And I think that’s really the coolest part about music is to watch it hop from culture to culture.”
Glines recently lunched with Tony Allen (Fela’s drummer of many years) and Ghariokwu Lemi, the man who designed 26 original Fela album covers and also the cover of (A) Move To Silent Unrest, CABP’s latest release. Allen explained how easy it was for Fela to find musicians because Nigeria was such a poor country.
“Cheap labor in Nigeria was all over the place – you could pay someone a couple of dollars… for an entire night. Where in the United States, the labor just doesn’t work like that,” Glines said, remembering the conversation. Fela was able to pay his band “well,” but it was only a small percentage of what a musician expects to be paid today.
Lyrically, CABP doesn’t follow the politically controversial stylings the genre was known for either. Only one song on (A) Move to Silent Unrest has lyrics. Glines said they can’t force it, because people know phony when they hear it.
“I think that everyone in our group leans to the left, and that everyone in varying degrees is socially active and wants to push things forward. I don’t think that I necessarily would be true to myself to come out there on an album and make a bunch of political statements like ‘Impeach Bush’ and things that I don’t think would necessarily convey what I personally believe. I don’t like Bush at all, and I clearly didn’t vote for this guy, and he’s a buffoon, but it’s just with our music…,” Glines said before stopping to collect his thoughts.
“Our version of Afrobeat is not necessarily the shock value of some of what Fela’s Afrobeat was. And I think… growing up in the seventies and some of the guys in the eighties, we didn’t grow up under a political dictator – a corrupt dictator at that – who is jailing our parents and throwing our mothers out of three-story buildings.” This is what happened to Fela’s own mother after he had clashed with the dictator for some time.
“There really is only one Fela, and we’re not interested in imitating Fela at all.”
For more information on the Dec. 13 show at Bell’s Brewery visit chicagoafrobeatproject.com. For more information on Fela visit