There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Gargantuan New York funk outfit Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra calls itself “the next generation of afrobeat in the tradition of the Black President, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.” And though plenty of hipsters (Common, !!!, and HiM, among others) have staked claims to certain elements of Fela’s music, Antibalas—which formed in 1998, before all those reissues hit the streets—simply snags the whole bit; the band plays its music as if it were Saturday night in Lagos circa 1976. And there’s something admirable about the way the 14-plus members of Antibalas (Spanish for “bulletproof”) achieve that classic Afrika 70 sound: Clean, interlocking guitar lines get sandwiched between huge brass melodies and layers of Nigerian and R&B-derived rhythms. Antibalas’ singers even mimic Fela’s oddly inflected English (“Lip service too much!”). Occasionally, though, non-Fela touches bubble to the surface—such as brittle sax skronk, modern keyboard sounds, even Spanish lyrics—and Antibalas stays in key a lot better than its hero ever did. The group also keeps proceedings mostly instrumental on its latest, Talkatif, shying away from Fela’s overt political statements. Antibalas’ choices may not be the boldest—or even all that original—but it’s hard to ignore the sheer joy embedded in its symphonic soul music. The Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra plays at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $10. (202) 667-7960. (Brent Burton)