By Lithawam Koni
“Polyrhythm is the simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms, that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another, or as simple manifestations of the same meter.
The genre of Afrobeat is of a musical structure that consists of many instruments, vocals, and jazzy horn sections. The continuous swing of the beat is employed in a repeated effect to create melodious intertwining, in which a basic tempo of drums, shekere, muted West African-style guitar, and bass guitar riffs are amalgamated layer upon layer to create a polyrhythmic compilation. The sound of the combination of jazz, funk, Ghanaian/Nigerian High-life and traditional West African chants and rhythms was notably seen last being perfected by Fela Kuti, who also created and coined the term Afrobeat, member of The Africa 70. This seems true, however only until the establishment of Antibalas(which means “bulletproof” in Spanish) in 1998.
The Afrobeat band is a Brooklyn based band that was created by Martín Perna as “Conjunto Antibalas” and was modelled after Fela Kuti‘s Africa 70 band and Eddie Palmieri‘s Harlem River Drive Orchestra. This orchestra, with twelve members, released the much anticipated album titled “Rat Race” on Extended Play (EP) vinyl in 2010.
The tale behind the production of the EP sparks from an invitation extended to Antibalas from Palm Pictures, in the winter of 2006, upon agreement that the band would arrange and record three Bob Marley songs in their manner of rhythmic structure. As the duration of these recording sessions progressed, a deeper and more intimate appreciation of Marley’s work manifested and so the band concluded upon making use of the gloomy nine minute composition of “Rat Race” fashioned by Antibalas keyboardist/producer Victor Axelrod, undoubtably the highlight of the EP. In addition, the EP features full-length dub mixes of both “Rat Race” and “Se Chiflo´,” as well as “Rat Breaks,” a breakbeat mix of drums and percussion for fans of Axelrod’s dub treatment of Antibalas’ classic version of “Che Che Makossa”.
Given the genre, the EP has a dense beat, with constant waves of percussion and accompanies prevalent horns and keys. This kind of solidity is one of the benefits to the twelve piece orchestra, as the band’s ability to sustain a number of modified sections, while arranging a perpetual pulse and never shying away from it is propelled by the band and the status of their tight inner group relations. The album conforms to the conventions of the genre, with winded solos and breakdowns, and lack of variation in a rhythmic capacity.
The release of this EP was critical and appropriate to the time, as it was in 1976 when Marley released his album. It provides a musical social commentary amidst the devastating economic, environmental, and social challenges confronting humanity. This tribute to Marley’s fight against inhumanity and its consequences on by many is, conversely a commentary on the socio-political status in 2010 (the disturbing economic, environmental, and social challenges confronting humanity).
This band’s release in 2010 contributes to the orchestra’s growing popularity, and while Antibalas has always enjoyed a sufficient followship, their most recent participation in a Broadway production about the life and music of Fela Kuti has propelled the orchestra’s name to new international heights. With this EP and other contributions, they have secured the opportunity to offer a revived age to Nigerian Afrobeat jamming.