True to its original intent as an evolving musical experiment, Chicago Afrobeat Project now angles its afrobeat roots sideways, pushing a vocal-heavy band that drips with slippery funk and rhythmic hip-hop. After years working with Tony Allen, master drummer behind Fela Kuti and the creator of afrobeat, the group’s grasp of afrobeat is uncontested. It’s the deviation from tradition that continues to make the band’s sound contemporary and relevant.
With the addition of male emcee Legit and female vocalist Rhea the Second, tightly executed hip-hop verses scatter across the top of CAbP’s bubbling afrobeat rhythms. Rhea’s soaring vocal melodies intersect with the full horn section, which at times will either punctuate to emphasize these vocals or intertwine with the vocal melody itself. The sound is rich, and there’s a lot to sink your teeth into whether you’re a fan of Fela or the contemporary Chicago hi-phop scene.
The group began in 2002. A group of musicians sharing a common interest in West African rhythms met to jam in a West side artist loft on Chicago’s Lake Street. Quickly they realized that mixing afrobeat with Chicago house, indie rock, hip-hop, or jazz opened new avenues for experimentation. Something clicked. They had found a collective calling.
Fast-forward hundreds of tour dates and five studio releases later, and the group has found ways of interpreting afrobeat through American urban sounds. Through it all, CAbP has been at the center of the emergence of the North American afrobeat scene. In its newest releases, What Goes Up Remixed (2019) and What Goes Up (2017), the band features special guest Tony Allen, as well as many Chicago vocalists and MCs.
Allen, once exclaimed by Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived,” plays kit on all 10 tracks, recording his signature beats behind the band and vocalists. This collaboration makes Chicago Afrobeat Project the first American afrobeat band to produce a full-length studio record with Tony Allen.
Taking the vocal helm on the album are Akenya (Noname, Chance the Rapper), JC Brooks, Kiara Lanier, Legit (Chance the Rapper), Ugochi, Oranmiyan and Rico Sisney/Maggie Vagle (Sidewalk Chalk). The band’s new vocal-laden approach makes the songs of What Goes Up concise and intentional, and markedly different from CAbP’s prior recordings.
A staple of the American live music scene for years, the band’s live show now combines its historically instrumental style with the new vocal approach. Crowds feed off the spontaneity of the soloists and enthusiasm of the band.
Chicago Afrobeat Project has been a 100% independent artist since day one, with its new release What Goes Up following suit.