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Live Reviews

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra
February 20, 2008

By Carl Negro

Southpaw
Brooklyn, New York

Antibalas made good on the hype surrounding their pair of January gigs at Southpaw, the progressive little Brooklyn venue nestled between Park Slope and Carol Gardens. The "bulletproof" Afrobeat Orchestra's overt politics and sense of dramatic timing harkens back to when New York venues and artists alike lacked the corporate polish that has taken over in the post-Giuliani era. Not that their music isn't polished, but once you buy your ticket you're punching in on AB's clock, not the label's, the venue's or the sponsor's.

The show opened with Vic Thrill, a drum/guitar/synth trio that made heavy use of extra drum tracks, keyboard samplings and a projection screen, which never seemed to slow down on the colorful, weird images. After more than an hour and a half wait between groups Antibalas finally sauntered onto the stage. Prior preparation, both on and off the stage, by drum techs didn’t seem to be enough and the band proceeded with its painstaking tuning routine.

The first song of the set was for tightening up the rhythm and brass sections, while the second was purely for the lead vocalist and percussionist Amayo’s track-jacketed face-painted introduction. As vocal tirades against the GOP and spirited words for a potential black president poured forth, Amayo and his cohorts remained poised and composed.

Antibalas brings the African rhythms and energy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti to the stage, but it becomes the audience's responsibility to resonate fully with the dance grooves and complete the music. This Afrobeat Orchestra is not a group that puts out easily, either: each horn solo is only long enough to give the audience a taste, but leaves everyone wanting more as the rest of the brass jumps back in at the coda. If you're the instant gratification type then stick to surfing through your iPod or the car radio, but if you need music that demands respect and participation, buy your Antibalas tickets ahead of time and enjoy the anticipation.