More than OK: Afro beat band wins converts

at Starr Hill Music Hall
Friday, January 24

Antibalas first brought afro-beat to Starr Hill in September, 2002. At that time very few people knew of the 12-piece behemoth band out of New York. And yet they managed to pull an impressive 150 people in for the show.

That night was an incredible night of music. Word definitely got around.

This time around Starr Hill was filled almost to capacity for the Antibalas Afro Beat Orchestra. It was impossible not to move something to the sound that was happening on stage.

Two guitarists laid rhythm over bass, drums, keys, and three percussion players. That unit locked in perfectly, moving as one organism. The entire right side of the room danced. The horns punched out notes precise and powerful.

Lead singer Amayo swayed back and forth, occasionally shouting inciting words at the audience, his verses full of heavy meaning. Whether about political strife, self-empowerment, or respect for women, he chanted deeply and earnestly in a thick West African accent.

On cue with the end of his phrases, the horns hit and led the band into variations of the basic rhythm. The groove never got old.

During the set break I walked outside to brave the cold for a little fresh air. As I was walking back toward the club, I overheard the conversation of two people who were leaving. I couldn't believe it when I heard one of them describe the band as "a good groove but nothing special."

"What more do you want?" I thought to myself. The only thing that would satisfy them probably would be to resurrect the great Fela Kuti himself and have him perform a set. But even that probably wouldn't do it.

To some, the repetition of afro-beat can come across as basic. I struggled with what that dude said for nearly the entire set break. How can 12 human beings locking into one groove and staying there without deviation or mistake not be special?

More importantly, they came here four months ago and hardly made a dime, but still came back because the people loved it. That's special in my book.

I went back upstairs slightly annoyed by that person's tepid assessment of the band. But as soon as they started to play, I was back in the paralytic zone-­ neck frozen and eyes glued to the stage–and grateful that Antibalas decided come our way again.