Words by: Mitchell Bander | Images by: Chris Monaghan
Chicago Afrobeat Project :: 12.13.08 :: The Morse Theatre :: Chicago, IL
The Chicago Afrobeat Project, like the city itself, is a stew of origins. Mainly, there is the deliberate rhythms of African origin that provide the background for layers of American-refined interpretations of roots music. To only think of this band as an Afrobeat act would miss much of the creative input from many of the eight band members.
The group starts with two drummers, with Danjuma Gaskin adhering slightly more to African drumming traditions, keeping the beat steady with congas and various percussion tools. He keeps it simple, something complimented by his counterpart's full kit jazz drumming. The time and pace are properly African but they take the liberty of filling up the space with sounds more rooted in the African-American derived genres of jazz and blues. And given that Afrobeat is influenced by rock & roll, it makes sense that an Afrobeat project based in Chicago would solidify that African-American influence even further. The drumming may not be as dominant as Chicago's Occidental Brothers or the Kenyan/American group Extra Golden, but it allowed a plethora of musical styles to surface throughout CAbP's two sets.
The next most noticeable element of CAbP's sound is the heavy input from keyboardist Kevin Ford's Hammond and Wurlitzer. The sound is fully electric and constantly walking the line between early psychedelic rock and a sparse, quick jabbing of the keys reminiscent of the vibes and other metallic objects in traditional African music. If there is one sound that is inseparable from the music of Chicago Afrobeat Project it is Ford's keyboards. When he would sit out during songs there was a discernable element missing from the mix.
Although not part of the sound, dancers Tosha Alston and Ebony Tolliver reminded us just where every note came from. The long forgotten fact that all music stems from some aspect of ritual was warmly celebrated again at The Morse Theatre. Even though there was no harvest or coronation to celebrate, the dancers treated us to a visual jubilation of sorts, and the crowd did their best to follow suit. At points, the music was even set up to showcase their exuberance - a smart move by the group.
|Chicago Afrobeat Project :: 12.13 :: Chicago|
CAbP enlists three horn players - Angelo Garcia (tenor saxophone), Garrick Smith (baritone saxophone) and Mark Thomson (trombone) – whose playing reminded me of an upbeat New Orleans jazz section and really emphasized that this is an American ensemble. The players were able to compliment the rhythm section without being redundant and added a very palatable variety to the mix. Nowhere did I hear a note, melody or progression coming from this section that distracted me from the main theme. Plus they were ready to add vocal volume whenever the group unleashed a chant such as, "You can't go to doctor cause you're uninsured," from the topical "March Of The Uninsured."
One aspect that sets them apart from most American bands is the burying of the string section. Made up of electric guitar and bass, they are strictly a rhythm section save for the few instances when guitarist David Glines settled in for a riff that was more heady than crunchy, and more restrained than the typical noodle one might expect from a band with world influences playing a two set night. Still, they brought the fun without being silly and even managed to slip in a Fugazi cover without missing a beat. The Chicago Afrobeat Project is cruising right now with the release of new EP, Off The Grid. There is no projecting the success of this band because they are already there. What will be useful prognosticating is where the band takes this project from here.
Chicago Afrobeat Project tour dates available here.
JamBase | Worldwide
Go See Live Music!