There just aren't many bands like Antibalas. These are jazz players making dance music: Their music is big and fun, and their guiding spirit is Fela Kuti, the brilliant big-band leader and Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. Afrobeat is a musical style featuring nearly endless songs, mixing funk and jazz, grooves and riffs, with the rhythm carried by not only the drums, but everyone. Everyone — horn players, bass players, guitarists — plays rhythm in Afrobeat music.
Antibalas (Spanish for "bulletproof") is a Brooklyn ensemble, and 11 members turned up at the Tiny Desk. Many of these musicians may be familiar to listeners of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, The Roots, Paul Simon or Public Enemy. Most recently, Antibalas found some fame performing — and some of the members arranging and directing music — for the Tony-winning Broadway stage presentation of Fela!
It's one thing for a big group to make a big sound — and, sure, Antibalas does that — but what stands out is the subtlety of this ensemble; the way the horns weave in and out of each other, sometimes complementing and at other times inspiring and creating musical conversation between players. That extends to all the players, from vocals to guitar. When you start to listen to that conversation and you hear that build in a rhythm, it's so powerful, so full of joy. If they come to your town, drop what you're doing and go see them. Wear dancing shoes.
"Him Belly Go No Sweet"
Producer: Bob Boilen; Editor: Denise DeBelius; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Christopher Parks, Lauren Rock; photo by Ryan Smith/NPR