This article originally appeared on World Beat International.
Pizza and music; one ultimately edible and one possibly edifying, both consumed in great quantities around North America. And, every US major city tries to put it own spin on both. You have your New York style big slice, your Chicago deep dish, Philadelphia tomato pie, St. Louis thin crust or Los Angeles … whatever the weird they throw on crust and call pizza. I’m getting to a point here, bear with me. Afrobeat has become similarly commodious as pizza, and regional variations are making their way into the musical mix. Again, Brooklyn Afrobeat is different from DC Afrobeat, from East LA Afrobeat from Austin Afrobeat. Chicago Afrobeat Project puts its city’s stamp on the groove.
The Chicago flavor comes from local ingredients. 15 years a go a loose collective formed in a Chicago artist loft with musicians, vocalists, rappers and gospel singers, what have you, orbiting in and out of the venue, all sharing the common gravity’s pull of Afrobeat. “Some other groups follow Fela strictly, and that’s fine. We stretch that out a little and pull in everything we hear around us, giving Afrobeat a distinctly Chicago voice.” explains project keyboardist Kevin Ford. But, a foundation of authenticity, the right crust if you will, is necessary for any big band to achieve the rhythm’s ultimate potency. The collective flew the man who put the beat in Afrobeat, Tony Allen himself to Chicago from Paris to engage in a series of instructional workshops, and the magic happened. Ford recalls, ” “You don’t need to talk about it, you start playing and you just click.” It reminded Allen of studio sessions with Fela himself, he said. Next time Tony comes in studio to record a couple of exploratory tracks. The band braced for the worst when Allen put down his sticks and announced, “We’re not recording two tracks … we’re recording 10 tracks for an album.” It’s a heck of a back story to a killer new new release. Great musicians always teach when to hold back to make the breaks pop when they come. Allen is the master. Plus, there’s a certain something he does; a feather light flutter on the snare that is so signature to his style it really does define the beat, anchor each track and ultimately makes What Goes Up irresistible from beginning to end. Some great vocal performances set the album apart from a lot of the mostly instro-afrobeat ensembles that appear thick on the ground these days. I’m certainly not complaining and I love all kinds of pizza … just easy on the fish and fruit please. The reverse is true. What goes down, might come up.