Raise your hand up high if you know & are into the Brooklyn band, Antibalas. Not bad, not bad—I see a few hands and a fist or two. Now, for those who aren’t hip, let me explain exactly who Antibalas is. The group formed in 1998 with Martin Perna at the front. The word antibalas is Spanish for “bulletproof”, which lends credence to their long-lasting career in the afrobeat world—19 years and still going strong. Antibalas plays afrobeat music, paying homage to the king of afrobeat himself, Fela Kuti. Listen very carefully—you may hear Eddie Palmeri piano stylings and personally, I think I hear another echoes of another band hailing from Brooklyn, Mandrill.
Where The Gods Are In Peace could be considered a head scratcher because it’s so short. It showcases only five tracks, but in reality, it feels like ten, perhaps fifteen. To only have five tracks and still packing a serious blow is true testament to what this band is all about. Take the track “Goldrush”. It opens up with early 1970’s rock FM and fast as you can FELA, BAM! The mood shifts into afrobeat, advanced version. Brilliant! They have you thinking one thing, but accomplish another.
Antibalas is very well-schooled in pulling off feats such as this. “Tombstone”, believe it or not, is the third, fourth and fifth track–a 3-part finale that will blow your mind. Zap Mama, the beauty from Belgium, lends her vocals on all three tracks. What can one say? Makes you wish more acts took risks like Antibalas, but they would be asking too much. Antibalas is one of a kind, folks.
Where The Gods Are In Peace. Enjoy it for what it is—an amazingly powerful punch in just a five step gig. Next time, I expect to see more hands raised when asked, “Who knows about Antibalas?” Don’t disappoint me.
Release date: May 2009
For nearly 20 years, Zap Mama has been at the forefront of world music. They have not only exemplified the joy of crossing and (re)mixing musical and cultural genres but they have equally challenged the cult of celebrityism and the all too common sexual objectification of women in popular music and culture (Supermoon2007; A Ma Zone 1999). Experiencing a number of personnel and stylistic changes over the years, the group has consistently reflected the personal developments and insights of its mixed race founder, Marie Daulne.
Born in the central African country of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) from the union of a white (French-speaking Belgian) father and a Bantu mother, Daulne has always known the negative effects of racism. Only a week after her birth, Daulne’s father was killed by Simba rebels who were opposed to inter-racial unions. Later, when she immigrated with her mother to Belgium, Marie found that there were too few Black role models and her mixed race background set her apart from her Belgian compatriots.
As a young woman Daulne returned to Zaire where she discovered that she was not perceived or accepted as an African but as a white European and a foreigner. Daulne, however, also rediscovered the music that her mother used to sing while she was growing up, and she began to integrate the close-knit, polyrhythmic harmonies sung by the Bambuti and BaBenzélé people (a.k.a. Pygmies) into Western song. Dualne says that her musical integration enables her to “zap” between cultures, and that combining African and Western sounds shows “that to have blood from white and black was [to have] perfect harmony on the inside” (Gruno 1997). This was the inspiration behind Dualne’s creation of Zap Mama in the early 1990s that is reflected in all seven of the group’s CDs, beginning with their first recording, Adventures in Afropea, in 1993.
Zap Mama’s 7th and latest release, ReCreation, includesan eclectic mix of Native American, Moroccan and Australian influences along with salsa, Motown, and rap. With Dualne and an interchangeable front lineup of female vocalists characteristically dressed in a sundry of African head scarves, jewelry and stylish Western gear, Zap Mama emphasizes women-in-charge. And Daulne’s unwillingness to conform to the music industry’s demands for commercialism and bounded genres has allowed her (and Zap Mama) to maintain both personal andmusical integrity over the years.
ReCreation is influenced by recent events, including the election of U.S. President Barak Obama, and is distinguished by a positive message that humanity is embarking on a new social and political era more inclusive of racial and cultural differences. The recording also reflects Zap Mama’s inclusion of Western instruments (electric and acoustic keyboards, guitars, trumpets), a development beginning in 1997 that deviated from the group’s earlier a cappella recordings. The personnel on the CD includes two members from the original Zap Mama early 1990s lineup, vocalists Sylvie Nawasadio and Sabine Kabongo, along with French actor Vincent Cassell, “neo soul” singer Bilil, and rapper/harmonica player G. Love.
Daulne provides the lead vocals on twelve of the thirteen songs, while the opening track “ReCreation” features the vocals of her 15-year-old daughter Keisha Daulne. G. Love joins Daulne on her original composition, “Drifting,” a soulful Motown-style song about a traveling male musician and his female counterpart who waits for his return while she tries to keep the flames of love aglow. “Paroles Paroles” and “Non, Non, Non” are sung in French with background vocals whispered by Cassell. Both songs use the sexual play of flirtatious words between and man and a woman. “Hello To Mama” is an upbeat salsa number that, along with “Drifting,” comprise the musical highlights of the album.
Here is the music video for “Hello to Mama” courtesy of Heads Up:
There is a possible downside of ReCreation, and to Zap Mama in general, in that the group’s eclectic mix at times reverberates as mood music, i.e. (what I define as) fragments of melody, harmony or rhythm that instill a specific mood but that lack substantial musical-generic development to readily distinguish one song from others. At their best, Zap Mama employs their unique use of vocalization and rhythms in the corroboration of distinctive songs regardless of the genre performed. ReCreation includes some of these features and, when combined with Zap Mama’s penchant for zapping between musical cultures and challenging the status quo, definitely offers something unique and special.
Title: All Rebel Rockers
Artist: Michael Franti and Spearhead
Label: ANTI/Boo Boo Wax
Catalog No.: ANTI 86906/89-2
Release Date: September 2008
In his sixth studio release, All Rebel Rockers, Michael Franti digs deep into the dub/reggae pocket and pulls out legendary “Riddim Twins” drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare. From the moment the needle drops you can tell that Sly and Robbie produced this project. Franti has collaborated with the Riddim Twins in the past, but this time he “wanted that groove and a toughness to the rhythm” that just simply drips from a full-on Sly and Robbie production. Recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, and in Franti’s home base, San Francisco, this album takes the listener by the seat of the pants and gets your body rocking.
Franti is known for his social political lyrics and, with guitar and microphone in hand, he juggles the identity of singer, songwriter, musician, author, activist, documentarian, and new millennium bard. Born and raised around the Bay area, Franti’s love for music escalated during college at University of San Francisco, when he lived above the college radio station. In 1989, he formed the Beatnigs, an industrial punk band with DJ Rono Tse, and achieved minimal local success. In 1991, Franti continued his collaboration with Tse, forming The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Adding the guitar of Charlie Hunter, The Disposable Heroes broke through with in-your-face lyrics that dealt with social injustice fused to an industrial/hip hop sound. The success of their first album eventually led to an opening spot on the U2 Zoo TV tour and a project with novelist William S. Burroughs entitled Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales.
In 1994 Franti formed Spearhead along with bassist Carl Young. Spearhead moved away from the industrial/hip hop sound to a more soulful funk-oriented style, while retaining the socially conscience ideology. Franti released Homeand Chocolate Supa Highway on the Capitol label before deciding to start his own label, citing differences with Capitol over artistic direction. In 2000, Franti released Stay Human on his label Boo Boo Wax under the name of Michael Franti and Spearhead (necessary because Capitol still owned the rights to the name Spearhead). Stay Human dealt with issues of prison reform, corrupt politicians, corporate globalization, and more poignant issues related to maintaining self respect and dignity. In 2003, Franti released Everyone Deserves Music, which featured songs that he had written in the aftermath of 9/11. This album was both reactionary and therapeutic, with songs that dealt with the shock of 9/11 as well as songs that were written in order to cope with the fear of the changing world.
In 2004 Franti embarked on a documentary project in Iraq, Palestine, and Israel in order to put his “money where his mouth is.” Franti felt if he was going to criticize the U.S. occupation of Iraq that he needed to have firsthand experience. The result of this was the film, I Know I’m Not Alone, in which Franti talked to the culture bearers, the poets, artists, musicians and everyday people, including the soldiers, in order to show the human cost of war. Franti continued to write songs during his trip to the Middle East, which resulted in the 2006 release Yell Fire!. This album had such a distinct reggae feel to it that they were re-classified as a Reggae group. Franti collaborated with Sly and Robbie on this album and it seems only natural that he would continue this relationship on his new album.
All Rebel Rockers features the Spearhead core group: Carl Youngand Dave Shul on guitar, Manas Itene on drums, and Raliegh J. Neal, II on keyboards. Michael is backed by several very special guests including Zap Mama founder Marie Daulne and Jamaican soul/dancehall star Cherine Anderson. The album gets right to the point with the first track “The Rude Boys Back in Town,” a song that requires a decent audio system due to the deep bass and Dub effects that will shake your body to the core. The first half of the album is extremely danceable with themes ranging from social ailment, political injustice, economic woes and lovers’ laments. My personal favorite is the track “Say Hey (I Love You),” a song that is so catchy it will stick with you for days. Following is the promotional video from Anti Records:
The album also features several songs that fuse a heavy rock style with reggae/dub rhythm, which seems reminiscent of Franti’s early work with the Beatnigs. He has been quoted saying that he wants to give the revolution a dance party soundtrack, and he clearly states this on the track “Soundsystem.” Franti has taken the protest song to the next level by giving it a “beat you can rock your soul to.” He then shows a very personal side with “I Got Love for You,”a song that he wrote as his eldest son was preparing to go out on his own for the first time. As with most of Franti’s albums, the last track is one of hope. “Have a Little Faith”does not disappoint, and seeks to reassure the listener of the commitment Franti has to his audience.
Franti’s music is always in a state of evolution, from punk to funk to reggae/dub, it seems to really represent the complex fusion of identities in the growth of the musician and the man. His commitment to humanity led him to organize the annual Power to the Peaceful festivals in San Francisco and Brazil. He has also been named an Ambassador of Peace by the World Health Organization. “At six-foot-six, he’ll grab the mic, and take you to another level.”