Antibalas (Spanish for “bulletproof”) is a Brooklyn ensemble. Eleven members turned up for the Tiny Desk. And they are quite the ensemble. There are trumpets, saxophones, two guitars, a bass and a ton of percussion. There’s a percussionist/keyboardist wearing a lucha libre mask (!) and the lead singer (singing in English and some other language) has what looks like tribal paint on his face. (He also plays conga and cowbell).
The blurb states:
There just aren’t many bands like Antibalas. These are jazz players making dance music: Their music is big and fun, and their guiding spirit is Fela Kuti, the brilliant big-band leader and Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. Afrobeat is a musical style featuring nearly endless songs, mixing funk and jazz, grooves and riffs, with the rhythm carried by not only the drums, but everyone. Everyone — horn players, bass players, guitarists — plays rhythm in Afrobeat music.
It’s one thing for a big group to make a big sound — and, sure, Antibalas does that — but what stands out is the subtlety of this ensemble; the way the horns weave in and out of each other, sometimes complementing and at other times inspiring and creating musical conversation between players. That extends to all the players, from vocals to guitar. When you start to listen to that conversation and you hear that build in a rhythm, it’s so powerful, so full of joy. If they come to your town, drop what you’re doing and go see them. Wear dancing shoes.
They play two songs, but they are long and full of rhythm. “Dirty Money” runs just under 6 minutes. I really like the way the horns seems to echo and answer each other during the slow sections. While the whole band sings the backing voices. And when the masked guy switches from percussion to keyboards, it’s got a groovy 70s sound coming out of that machine. All of it is anchored by the bass, keeping a steady rhythm. One of the trumpeters switches to trombone for a solo as well.
“Him Belly Go No Sweet” has an even funkier feel–lots of percussion and staccato horns slowly working with each other to create a big sound. Even though there’s plenty if music in this song it’s impressive how much they use silences—things are never quiet (there’s always a bass line or percussion) but for such a big outfit they can really get things to quiet own. The end half of the song sees the band singing “go up go down” while the lead singer seems to improvise a whole bunch of stuff.
It is, indeed, hard not to dance to this.
[READ: July 10, 2016] “Baptizing the Gun”
This was a very dark story and, if nothing else, it made me never want to go to Lagos, Nigeria.
The story is told in first person by a priest. He is not wearing his collar and is driving a borrowed VW Beetle through the traffic of Lagos.
As the story opens, a woman is screaming because a thief just pulled an earring out of her ear–tearing her earlobe. He is caught and, astonishingly, “ringed with tires, doused in petrol, and set ablaze.” Even though there is barely any fuel to be had “there’s always enough for the thief.”
The priest believes his trip was a success and many parishes have promised his parish in the Niger Delta money and materials.
But on his way back (at 18:03) the car dies in traffic.
A large man comes from out of the shadows and offers to help. The priest is terrified. He hides his Rolex and tries to convince the man to not help him. The man is brusk but helpful and says there’s no need for a mechanic. He bends down to check the car and that’s when the priest notices the bulge in his pocket–a pistol.
The man gets the car running a gain but when he sees the priest’s map, he tells him that the map is useless and that he will guide the priest to his destination. The man hops in the car and the priest believes that he is being kidnapped.
The man makes conversational and all the while the priest is willing him to go away. The drive is slow but fairly steady. Until they see a lump of clothes in the middle of the road. The priest is barely able to get around it, although he does bump it somewhat. The man tells him that the clothes weren’t empty, exactly.
This makes the priest even more nervous. He feels like he needs to do something about the body in the road but the man tells him he’d better not stop.
Then up ahead there is a police check point. The priest believes that he is finally safe. But the police are drunk and just looking for bribes. They don’t even care about the corpse in the road, “Wetin concern me if corpse dey road?”
Then the man starts talking about the Niger Delta. When the priest reveals that’s where he’s from too, the atmosphere lightens some. But then the man starts talking about local factions [about which I know nothing] and it makes the priest even more nervous than before as he fears that the man is out to target him.
When the car dies again, the priest takes an opportunity to flee the “kidnapper.” But leaving the main road proves no safer. And the people loitering around are even scarier than the man in the car.
What is a priest to do in this lawless land, when Samaritans are few and far between and everyone seems willing to kill.
The ending was not as dreadful as I thought it would be, but it certainly tells me to steer clear of Lagos.