September 7th, 2007
One of the really nice things about Bloomington, Indiana, is that it attracts different kinds of people from many different places. This diversity is also reflected in the local music scene through bands like Mental Afro. Calling to mind earlier groups such as the Roots who perfected the emcee plus live band model, Mental Afro combines bass, drums, and guitar with two emcees, then layers on plenty of funk grooves, rock guitars, reggae rhythms, and anything else in their musical laboratory.
Throughout the summer I was able to check out Mental Afro shows at a couple of different venues. Those who attend their concerts are guaranteed a high energy performance, innovative and funky music, and positive rhymes. Tracks like “Get Your Comb” offer a mid-tempo groove that moves people to dance and sing along, while tracks such as “Tangerine” build on a funky bass line and explore the sexier side of life.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with three of the five members of Mental Afro: Brian Courtney (bass), Tracy Brown (emcee), and Marvin Druin (guitar). The band’s debut album, Mental Afro, was recently recorded at Bloomington’s Farm Fresh Studios by Jacob Belser. In this conversation I discovered how the group manages to explore so many different types of music, while putting their own spin on it.
FM: Well, what exactly is a “mental afro?”
Mental Afro: What we’re talking about is picking out your mental afro. It’s how you nourish your afro, you got to keep it trimmed, and put good stuff in it. We try to relate that idea of positivity through our music.
FM: I thought it was an interesting name for a group where no one actually has an afro. It sort of reinforces the idea of a “mental” afro.
FM: How do you all approach making music?
MA: Well it just sort of comes together. After we just hang around together and someone comes up with something, then someone else just adds something and asks, “Well, what about putting this part here?” And it ends up growing into something.
FM: Can you talk about the process of making this album?
MA: It went so quickly. Everyone just came in and it wasn’t a difficult recording session. Once we got into it, it flowed so seamlessly. We recorded it in two days!
FM: Can you talk about making music in a community like Bloomington?
MA: Well, it can be really cool to do music here because they’re so many different sounds around here that come here with the people. Hanging around the music stores and talking to people and listening to different kinds of music brings new sounds into the music that people make. I think it keeps Bloomington’s music scene from becoming stale.
FM: What do you think about comparisons between Mental Afro and The Roots?
MA: It’s a compliment. Those guys are great and definitely it’s nice that people think of them when talking about us. [Other influences listed on the band’s website range from Jimi Hendrix, Parliament Funkadelic, Slave, and Sly & the Family Stone to N.E.R.D., Talib Kweli, Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and Fishbone, with a dash of Howlin’ Wolf thrown in for good measure].
FM: What are your plans for Mental Afro’s future?
MA: We’re all planning to stick around and see where this takes us. We’re beginning to play gigs outside of Bloomington and hopefully we’ll go as far as we can go with this.
Mental Afro continues to perform live in Bloomington and throughout the Midwest, including Chicago, Madison, and Indianapolis. Their shows definitely make for a great night of live music. Visit the band’s myspace page to find out more about upcoming shows and listen to clips from their debut album.
Posted by fredara mareva