This article originally appeared on Synthesis.net.
Chicago Afrobeat Project is just that. A mélange of musicians, dancers and more from this Chicago-based, Fela-inspired collective. Although they’ve been under the moniker since 2002, their debut album didn’t drop until 2005. Their second full-length, (A) Move to Silent Unrest was released late last year and is drawing people even closer to the primal appeal of Afrobeat.
Synthesis got a chance to speak with tenor sax player Angelo Garcia while the band was on the road somewhere between Bozeman, Montana, and Boise, Idaho. They had just finished the first show of the tour in Missoula, and checked in with minimal sleep from their new veggie-oil fueled bus.
CAbP has recently been making more of a western swing in an effort to spread the beat. They are returning to the hills and valleys of NorCal with repeat visits to Redding’s Marketfest, followed up with two days in Quincy for the High Sierra Music Festival. The rest of the tour takes them through Utah; a nice run through Cali with a notable stop at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, Colorado, a little Pennsylvania for kicks and back home to Chicago.
They range in size from a traveling seven to nine-piece, with as many horns as they can find, to a much more dynamic 14-piece with traditional African dancers. However, as with any rhythm, more instrumentation can lead to a much deeper level. This can especially be the case if the additional players are extremely talented. Take Fareed Haque for example.
For lack of a ridiculously long hyphenation, let’s just say Haque is a guitar virtuoso. Besides leading Garaj Mahal and his own group, and teaching music at Northwestern University, Haque finds time to sit in. Not only does he play with CAbP, he can also be found on the group’s self-titled debut on “BMW.” This should give one an idea of the talent pool contained within Chicago Afrobeat Project.
“Dave Glines our guitar player wanted to bring in Fared to solo over [on the first album], so we just got in contact and he came in the studio,” said Garcia.
It is this sense of collaboration that is one of the ensemble’s strongest characteristics. All members come from varied musical backgrounds, drawing on the experience and talent of each other and the Chicago music scene. For example, they recently hosted a benefit with dancers from Chicago’s Muntu Dance Theatre, Hauqe, Master talking drummer T.J. Okulnola, break dancers, emcees and visual artists all sharing the stage.
“We do a lot of those at least once a year,” said Garcia when asked about the frequency of the multi-artist benefits shows. “We did one back in 2006 in Brooklyn. I think it was Fela’s birthday. We had a bunch of different afrobeat bands there.”
To the casual listener, Afrobeat may share some sonic qualities of dread-named jam bands. There may be long extended songs and sets with polyrhythmic interludes leading some to think it’s some sort of impromptu noodling; but make no mistake, Afrobeat is very structured and demanding on the players, and CAbP put in the work producing their own take on a reemerging well source of music. Smearing genres and media lines like a fresh mark from a new Sharpie, CAbP mixes the traditional with the current and more by intimately incorporating funk, jazz and hip-hop.
It is precisely this genre bending that creates something unique. The integration of hip-hop, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Nigerian High Life creates a decidedly more dance-oriented approach to a typically political genre. It’s easy to see how they are quickly gaining appreciation.
The group would do equally well at any world music, jazz, or “hippie” festival and has, playing several times at Summer Camp in Illinois along with groups like The Roots, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, The Flaming Lips and Hot Buttered Rum. They played Wakarusa Music Festival earlier this June, and have played High Sierra in the past.
“Wakarusa was awesome,” said Gracia. “For a playing a noon time slot there was a lot of people up and moving around.”
When the group played at last year’s Marketfest in Redding, the temperature on stage hit 130 degrees.
“That was pretty harsh,” said Garcia. “I drank a lot of water and kept myself hydrated but our drummer moves a lot more and he almost passed out. It was pretty close; we were kinda worried. We didn’t want to cancel a show.”
Although the band may be weary of the heat and fires out here, CAbP is excited to return.
Not only does the group dig seriously deep into rhythm and everything else that makes you move your body, they also believe strongly in supporting humanitarian efforts. Aside from playing benefits, the band makes the extra effort of donating proceeds from recording to humanitarian groups.
This perspective extends both globally and locally with CAbP contributing to relief funds as well as converting their tour bus to veggie oil.
“It’s really cool to drive on free fuel and not have to support the oil industry or support a war revolving around oil,” explained Garcia. “It’s just really cool driving up to a restaurant and sucking out their waste. Right now we’re working with Chicago biofuel; they are gonna help us with getting our oil. They’re non-profit and were gonna help them get the word out. The cool thing is since we did this we hope we make more people in Chicago aware of the veggie fuel; possibly think about that for the environment and be free from oil.”