Antibalas Live at Starr Hill

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Indie rock could learn a thing or two from Duke Amayo -- his Antibalas
project is undoubtedly among the more curious acts dispensed by the
goofy musical vending machine that is modern-day Brooklyn. The
sprawling ensemble, which typically consists of between 11 and 14
members, is a contemporary Afrobeat band playing music derived from
Nigerian musician and political figurehead Fela Kuti's Africa 70 and
Egypt 80 groups -- and in fact, they do it well enough to attract some
of Kuti's former bandmates, ranging from his son Femi to longtime
drummer Tony Allen.

Live at Starr Hill
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Kuti's political ferocity is what makes his story so compelling: every
horn riff was a fist, every drumroll a protest march, and every record
an amicus curiae brief -- "Coffin For Head Of State," for example, was
written for Kuti's late mother, who died after being thrown out a
window when the Nigerian government attacked his studio. On every
record, his ghost looms large enough to swallow you whole. Antibalas
has some enormous shoes to fill here.

They don't have quite as epic a biography yet, but their April 5th
performance at Starr Hill in Charlottesville, Virginia was spirited
enough to fool you into thinking otherwise. Following a fantastic
introduction driven by guitar and delay effects, Amayo catapulted
himself onto the stage, dreadlocks flailing all about like dancing
Koosh tendrils, and miraculously managed to subordinate the backline
of ten talented musicians that had seemed so captivating just moments
before.

But the most fascinating part of the show was the audience, which was
surprisingly receptive to Afrobeat despite being, like the band,
mostly white. At the risk of turning Afrobeat into the

new reggae --
that is, the soundtrack to Sunday afternoons at the frat house, chosen
by people who don't actually care enough to learn about its history --
at least they were there, and at least they were paying attention: the
Antibalas merch table gives as much real estate to activist flyers and
anti-war bumper stickers as it does to the newest album, which bears
the tongue-in-cheek title "Security." That's a lesson in either
sarcasm or social responsibility, or perhaps both.

Admittedly, it sometimes seems a little ridiculous for Antibalas to be
taking aim at the West from within -- but then again, it's hard to
ascribe a sense of urgency to anything while reclining in a La-Z-Boy
and nursing a Coke With Lemon. Nevertheless, "Security" suspends
disbelief for eleven staggeringly effective minutes with the
blistering "Filibuster X," a compelling argument for progressive
politics which impales the Republican party on a deceptively playful
call-and-response chorus. The audience absolutely ate it up.
"There's no shortage of material," sighed baritone sax player

Martin
Perna between songs, "But hopefully one day we'll run out of things to
talk about."

One can only hope. In the meantime, though, Antibalas might help it
go down a little smoother. As depressingly backwards as this society
can be, and as integral as that realization is to the Antibalas
identity, there are times during the show when it's very hard not to
smile. It's not Fela, but this is as good as it gets on this side of
the Third World divide.


For more on Antibalas visit Anti.com or their myspace page.

Contributed by Vijith Assar

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