An ever-evolving musical experiment, Chicago Afrobeat Project (CAbP) thrives when angling its afrobeat roots sideways. With an expansive repertoire, some music pushes a vocal-heavy band dripping with slippery funk and rhythmic hip-hop, while at times the group emphasizes its talented instrumentalists. After years of working with the late Tony Allen — master drummer behind Fela Kuti and co-creator of afrobeat — the group’s grasp of afrobeat is uncontested. But it’s when CAbP stretches out that listeners really dive in. In these experiments, the band’s tasteful deviation pays off.
With founding members Kevin Ford on keyboards and David Glines on guitar leading the group, many shows also feature male emcee Legit and female vocalist Rhea the Second. Legit pops his hip-hop verses across CAbP’s bubbling afrobeat rhythms, while Rhea’s soaring vocal melodies intersect with the horn section. At times the horns either punctuate the vocalists or intertwine with the vocal melody itself. The sound is rich. Whether you’re a fan of Fela or the contemporary Chicago hip-hop scene, the blend works.
The group began in 2002. 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 the American experience. Through it all, CAbP has been the Midwest torchbearers at the center 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.