"Rhythm is what makes a good Afrobeat record,” says Gabriel Roth, Daptone Records co-founder, producer and connoisseur of all things funky. “Not just the rhythm section, but the rhythm of the horns, the rhythm of the vocals, the rhythm of the keyboards, everybody’s rhythm. It’s not just being about being right or wrong in your rhythm, or being good at it, but it’s about feeling something the same way, swinging the same way, anticipating things the same way, and hitting things the same way — everybody hearing music the same way, and being able to turn all those instruments into one voice. “Antibalas is the only band that can do that, right now. That’s why they’re still at the front of the scene, after all these years.”
Fourteen years after their first gig, and five since the release of their last album, 2007’s Security, Antibalas — Afrobeat’s premier second-wave ensemble — are back with their fifth full-length release. Simply titled Antibalas, the album is both a blazing reaffirmation of the NYC band’s collective musical strengths, and a hard-hitting continuation of their funkified excursions into what Antibalas founder and baritone saxophonist Martín Perna calls “our vault of esoteric sounds and knowledge.” “Musically, it’s our best playing as a band,” says trumpeter Jordan McLean. “We’re having more fun together, we’re all breathing in sync, the structures of the compositions and the overall sound are tighter, and the band is sounding better than ever.”
Recorded over a two-week period at Daptone’s House of Soul Studios in Brooklyn with Roth at the helm, Antibalas is the first Antibalas full-length to be released on Daptone, which — given Antibalas’ deep- and long-running ties to the label — brings things kind of full-circle for the band. Antibalas has shared past and present members with several outfits in the Daptone stable (such as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Menahan Street Band and The Budos Band), while Roth was an original member of the band, and produced the first three Antibalas albums. “Making this record was like going back and playing basketball with all your high school buddies, or something,” says Roth.
Through their concerts, tours and recordings, Antibalas have helped re-popularize the classic Afrobeat sound, in the process earning the admiration of a wide array of respected musicians, including everyone from Questlove and David Byrne to Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Much in demand as collaborators, they’ve performed as a band in the studio and on stage with such artists as Medeski Martin & Wood, The Roots, Public Enemy, Paul Simon, Amadou and Mariam, and Fela’s son Femi Kuti, to name a few. In 2007, following the release of the band’s last album, Security, Antibalas’ Afrobeat expertise led to the involvement of several band members — including trombonist Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean, who respectively served as Musical Director and Assistant Musical Director — in Fela!, Bill T. Jones’ musical based on the life of Fela Kuti, which eventually went on to a successful Broadway run, earning eleven Tony Award nominations and three wins.
“What makes us tick, and what makes any band a band, is a shared collective idea about what the sound is,” says McLean, “and then of course on an individual level, it’s what each person brings to the band to give the band its defining sound. We have a shared idea of Afrobeat and Fela’s music, but we also have these 10 or 12 individuals who are also bringing their own heartbeat and their own perspective and their own experiences as individuals, and bringing that together to make Antibalas.” “We love this Afrobeat, it’s important to us, it’s not appreciated enough — and making it is a transformative process in so many different ways,” says Perna. “Unlike most music that’s really ego-driven and centered around one person or cult of personality, all of us have had to learn to function with really specified roles — everyone becomes a drummer, in a certain sense. Our parts may be played on melodic instruments, but they’re part of this huge interlocking net that holds up the music.”
Malamanya is a six-member Minneapolis-based band comprised of a diverse group of musicians who share a mutual respect and enthusiasm for traditional rhythms and melodies of Latin American and Caribbean music. Their onstage energy and compositions reflect the communal, complex, and celebratory spirit prevalent in these musical genres. Malamanya has performed for three years around the Twin Cities and recently released their first EP in August.