Metroland Online: “Chicago Afrobeat Project”

This article originally appeared on Metroland Online.

Club Helsinki, Saturday

Chicago world-music collective the Chicago Afrobeat Project bill themselves as “traditional Afrobeat meets ’70s funk,” celebrating the genres of music that became super popular in both Nigeria and in the United States in the ’60s and ’70s. The ever-morphing seven-to-14-piece lineup comprises a percussion section, guitars, keys, bass, and at some shows, even African dancers. Their self-titled debut disc was released last year to rave reviews; The Chicago Reader said, “In its tightly wound grooves, the group displays strong jazz sensibility a la electric Miles Davis.” This activist band lend their talents to events like World AIDS Day, when they recently played in tribute to Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti to benefit the foundation Journalists Against AIDS Nigeria. (Dec. 2, 9 PM, $10, 284 Main St., Great Barrington, Mass., 413-528-3394).

Esquire Magazine: “The Electrified Likembe”

This article originally appeared in Esquire magazine.

IN ALL POPULAR MUSIC, the road to suck is paved with good intentions. This is especially true of world music: The very name is anemic, roping in supposedly pure sounds as disparate as Celtic reels and Chinese pentatonic-scale caterwauling. All the more reason, then, to celebrate the stateside Afrobeat underground that’s been steadily building for a few years now. And the one single sound that jangled my nerves all year: an electrified likembe.

The band is Konono No. 1, part of a scene identified by the Belgian Crammed Discs label as “Congotronics,” a distant cousin of Afrobeat, political music first inspired by the Nigerian Fela Kuti, whose sax flirted with Coltrane while his band hustled like James Brown’s; check out Brooklyn’s Antibalas orchestra or Chicago’s Afrobeat Project. Like Afrobeat, Congotronics synthesizes African and Western sensibilities and doesn’t aspire to any kind of purity. Konono’s show features a conga player, a kid with a snare drum and the top half of a high-hat cymbal, a codger playing three cowbells pounded into different timbres, and those likembes–aka thumb pianos, usually a calabash gourd or, in this case, a wood box fitted with thin strips of metal to form keys–plugged into guitar amps.

Chicago Reader: “The Reader’s Guide to World Music Festival”

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Reader.

Active since 2002, last year this local combo released its self-titled debut album, which displayed plenty of chops and energy if not much originality—but then again, not many Afrobeat bands ever evolve too far beyond the naked worship of Fela Kuti, who pioneered the relentlessly funky style in Nigeria in the late 60s. Several notable Chicagoans—including kora player Morikeba Kouyate and guitarist Fareed Haque (see above)—make cameo appearances that briefly soften the complexion of the music, but for the most part the band cooks hard, slotting economical solos into its taut ensemble grooves.