By Dennis Cook

"African music is the deepest music in the world. It's the foundation of all the other music I love - jazz, Cuban and Brazilian music, everything," enthuses Ezra Gale, bassist and co-founder of Bay Area Afrobeat juggernauts Aphrodesia. "I also love that it's such a part of life and it's inseparable from dancing. In our culture so much music is background. We're bombarded with it all the time to the point where we don't even notice it sometimes. And yet with so many West African rhythms and songs, there are specific times of the day and uses for them, and specific dances that go with them. It's connected to people's lives in a way that I think we could learn from here in the U.S."

Backing his words up with action, Aphrodesia embarks on a month-long tour of Ghana in early February. Their heady, body rockin' interpretation of African music mixes in gutsy '70s funk with contemporary African currents like Konono No. 1 and Tinariwen for a full-throated, pleasantly glazed onslaught that recalls both the JB Horns and the legendary Etoile de Dakar. Located on Africa's Gold Coast along the Western shore, Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain its independence in 1957.

"The rich cultural diversity all over Africa is mind blowing," states lead singer and co-founder Lara Maykovich. "I remember at the end of my year traveling, hitchhiking through Mozambique, thinking that even if I took ten more years I would still only know a small part of Africa. I really loved Ghana because I felt so welcome there, and the people were just amazing and so open. Ghana got their independence pretty early on so there are not the same tensions that still taint some of the other African countries. The Ghanaians really feel that they are free, and this allows them to keep their hearts open. Ghana houses over 65 tribes, each with their own language and music and drum forms, so it is incredibly diverse within itself. Ghana also really supports the traditional arts and strives to keep them alive and to share them with others."

Things begin at home with a raucous kickoff party/benefit at SF's Xeno Drome on Saturday, January 28th. Besides Aphrodesia, performers include Eric McFadden, Sila, Soulsalaam, DJ Vinnie Esparza, and DJ Oaty Love. There'll also be Ghanaian and Brazilian drumming, ladies' veggie oil wrestling (seriously), and a kissing booth (yes, seriously). The performers are playing for free, and all the proceeds raised will go to support the tour.

Though many shows are likely to happen through word-of-mouth at makeshift music halls all over the country, Aphrodesia does know how the trip will begin.

"The first show we play there will be the Bob Marley Africa Unite Festival (which also features Stephen and Ziggy Marley, Culture, and Morgan Heritage) for probably the biggest crowd we've ever seen in our lives - of probably almost all Africans. So yeah, it's going to be interesting to see people's reactions to us to say the least," Gale states. "I think there will be a huge curiosity factor for sure, since we'll be white people playing African music in Africa. After that, we have no idea - they might love us, they might throw things at us. But in a way, we're going specifically to get our asses kicked. I want someone to come up to me and say 'No no no, that is not the way you play that. Let me show you how you play that.' I think putting yourself through something really demanding always makes you better in the end, as a person and as a musician, and I'm overjoyed that we're going to have that experience as a band."

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