Hypnotic, High-Voltage Afrobeat Grooves from Afrolicious

by delarue

More about that September 3, 8 PM show at Brooklyn Bowl mentioned here yesterday: Afrolicious are on a twinbill with Zongo Junction. If the idea of getting down on the dancefloor for three seriously sweaty hours is your thing, this is the place to be. Two bands, ten bucks.

Like Zongo Junction, Afrolicious has a new album, California Dreaming, streaming at Spotify. In a lot of ways, one band is the reverse image of the other: where Zongo Junction is all about mighty orchestration and expansive jams, Afrolicious keep things extremely tight and close to the ground, as you would probably expect from a somewhat smaller group. Where Zongo Junction’s psychedelic side plays up an intricate interweave between the instruments, especially the horns, Afrolicious is a lot more hypnotic and closer to the original Nigerian roots of Afrobeat. Afrolicious also blend elements of oldschool 70s disco and newschool dancefloor beats as well, drummer Paul Oliphant propelling a handful of numbers with the same kind of steady 2/4 thump you’d expect to find in techno…except that his groove is organic and doesn’t lose sight of the human element.

The album’s title track sets the stage, a seamlessly catchy, minor-key blend of funk, oldschool disco and Afrobeat, fueled by Wendel “Get Down” Rand’s dancing bass and the three-sax reed section of Kate Pittard, Aaron Liebowitz and Frank Mitchell. The second track, Revolution, pairs the optimistic vocals of frontman Freshislife with percussionists Baba Durum and Diamond over a steady, swinging funk vamp: “Everywhere I turn, I see revolution,” is their mantra. The cautionary tale Never Let No One mashes uo Fela and disco with terse horns and minor-key guitar from the axeman who calls himself “Pleasuremaker.” They follow that with Crazy, a brisk vintage disco number built out of a simple, incisive, bluesy guitar riff, making their way methodically up to a scurrying sax solo.

Pleasuretime is the first of the organic techno-influenced tunes, with elements of ska and dub reggae but more funky than either of those styles usually get. Pleasurepower follows a similar theme, followed by Thursday Right King Swing, which is almost a remix, but a live one, with more of that heavy dancefloor thud and spiraling electric piano, bringing in a Fela-esque arrangement so subtly that you don’t realize it until it hits you. The rest of the album comprises a couple of pretty straightforward Afrobeat jams, a reggae jam and one that’s more straight-up funk. Like all good party music, this works on a physical and metal level: free your ass and your mind will follow.