African in origin. Universal in message.
World music, as it’s known in record stores, is a genre founded on the drum skins of Osibisa, Babatunde Olatunji and Fela Kuti.
It’s hardly a surprise that Afrobeat found its way to a loft in Chicago.
“Basically,” Chicago Afrobeat Project guitarist David Glines says, “one of our members was living in a loft downtown on Lake Street, and we had rehearsals there.
“One person would grab another person. That guy would grab another guy, and it slowly evolved into this weekly gig.”
This weekly gig is now piling up years since emerging from the underground Chicago loft party scene 10 years ago.
Weaving unique flavors of ’70s funk and other Chicago music scene influences with a distinct Nigerian percussion-driven style, Chicago Afrobeat Project has spread its sound coast to coast, performing in clubs, festivals and on record with three CDs to its credit and another one on the way, “Nyash UP!”
“We bring a little bit of more outside influences to the genre. A little hip-hop, strong jazz, a touch of rock,” Glines says of Chicago Afrobeat Project’s traveling ensemble — Glines on guitar, Kevin Ford on keyboards, Garrick Smith on baritone sax, Angelo Garcia on tenor sax, Graham Czach on bass, Justin Boyd on drums and Danjuma Gaskin on congas.
At first listen to the guitar- and horns-driven instrumental “Hotter the Temp Longer the Wait,” you can picture a blaxploitation film score following Shaft on the tail of a bad guy through city streets.
“We’ve heard that before, especially the chase scene,” Glines says of the blaxploitation flick comparisons.
“Having a very deep pocket in the groove is very important,” he says. “Every one of our songs, we try to optimize every single moment and stay true to the spirit of Afrobeat, at the same time adding our contemporary twist to it.”
The influence from the drums of Osibisa, the African band formed in England in 1969 that staked claim as the first world music band, and renowned Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, remain at the core of Chicago Afrobeat Project’s music.
Fela Kuti, the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer who had a Broadway musical — “Fela!” — produced in his honor after he died in 1997, is as close to the band’s heart and soul as anyone from the genre.
Earlier this year, Chicago Afrobeat Project performed onstage with Fela’s son, Sean Kuti, and featured the actor Sahr, who portrayed Fela on Broadway.
But Glines says the band never strays far from offering social commentary in the music, whether through an original song or the blistering cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” featured on the upcoming release.
“Afrobeat is a message pointing out things that might be wrong in a society,” Glines says.
“When we cover Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’, we add new lyrics where we kind of make some commentary about the struggle of the middle class and what’s happened in relationship to the financial meltdown and where America is today.
“There’s no holier-than-thou attitude with the band,” he adds of any preconceived notions the listener may have when confronting social commentary in music today.
“We’re just trying to be honest with who we are and what we’re doing, and throwing it out there and hoping people take notice in what we say.”
Those drums will take care of the rest.
Chicago Afrobeat Project performs at 7 p.m. Saturday at Artoberfest in Benton Harbor. Artoberfest takes place in the Benton Harbor Arts District at Park and Water streets. Admission is free until 5 p.m.; $5 thereafter. For more information, call 269-926-1926 or visit newterritoryarts.org.