City Paper is not for tourists
In “Weigh Your Blessings,” a track on Chopteeth’s 2008 self-titled album, singer Michael Shereikis invites you to contemplate Third World scenes of violence, drought, and poverty: “While they’re stitching up and packaging Western shirts / Gettin’ paid enough to sleep on dirt.” The imagery serves less to rouse you to action than to put your own life in perspective, a modest but essential tonic—and if there’s something staid and academic behind the groove, the groove itself is unassailable. Shereikis says the band’s name is ripped from a Fela Kuti lyric about a man so crazy he ate his own teeth. That’s not all the D.C. band owes to the Nigerian father of Afrobeat: It can execute feverish, acid-laced workouts on a mix of original tunes as well as vintage ones Shereikis picked up during a stint in the Central African Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer. But where American Fela acolytes like Antibalas have taken on his charge to protest inequality themselves, Chopteeth’s message is more “join hands and dance.” Despite that, and its relatively cautious updates of Fela’s music—horn-laced jazz with some sophisticated ska inflections—Chopteeth is a fearsome live act, especially when Anna Mwalagho steps up to the mic to add a gradual, shimmering Swahili lyric to “Upendo.” Maybe the band’s decided that there’s no percentage in edge (it bleeps guest MC Head-Roc, who lends a verse to “No Condition Is Permanent”), but it’s hard not to get swept up in its urgent beat. And if you still need more grit in your groove, Justine Miller’s snarling trumpet pits Maynard Ferguson acrobatics with the deep syncopation of Fela’s great bands.
CHOPTEETH PERFORMS SATURDAY, JAN. 17, AT 9 P.M. AT THE ROCK & ROLL HOTEL, 1353 H ST. NE. $15. (202) 388-7625.