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Artist: Antibalas

Album: Antibalas

Label: Daptone

Review date: Aug. 6, 2012

For well over a decade now, the Afrobeat ensemble Antibalas has performed live and recorded studio albums of music fusing African, Latin, funk and soul-jazz music, among other styles. Antibalas’s new self-titled album, the follow-up to 2007’s Security, is packed with more grooves that are dense, energetic, and extended across time. Between releases, members of Antibalas were preoccupied with, among other activities, the musical Fela! The legendary Fela Kuti, the subject of the show, has had an outsized influence on Afrobeat, and Antibalas in particular. Fittingly, members of the outfit contributed musical performances as well as original compositions.

Organ, keyboard, horns and funky guitar lead the six-song procession that constitutes Antibalas. “Dirty Money” kicks the set off with a searing soul-jazz organ line surrounded by intermittent Latin horns, funky syncopated guitar and the click-clack percussion of what sounds like a cowbell. Other tracks follow similar templates. Keyboard-driven numbers, such as “The Ratcatcher” and “Ari Degbe,” are densely laden with mixtures of brass, electric guitar, and African drumming. If the record contains a standout, it’s closer “Sare Kon Kon.” It combines an addictive melodic line that weaves its way from the saxes to the trumpets, a rumbling, interwoven rhythmic line that recalls some of Timbaland’s finest tracks, and emphatic call-and-response vocals that round out the second half.

Antibalas continues to do for Afrobeat what Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings do for funky soul. Both channel musical traditions lovingly, but with contemporary vibrancy and flair. Not weighed down by the heft of its membership (the band is a dozen-or-so strong collective of sorts), Antibalas is charging ahead, poised for continued recognition and celebration among Afrobeat devotees, as well as first discovery by world music dabblers. Although the Internet has made crate-digging in many old and underappreciated genres a much more accessible endeavor — and Afrobeat is no exception — one suspects that efforts to carry on tradition that are as faithful and compelling as those of Antibalas will remain hard to find.

By Benjamin Ewing

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