Antibalas’ set was drawn mostly from their album Security, though they did end with a Fela Kuti cover that I couldn’t place. They’ve grown musically over the years, pushing the boundaries of what Afrobeat can contain – there were moments in the solo spots that so captivated my attention that I had to momentarily stop dancing. Victor Axelrod’s keyboards channelled Congotronics-esque lo-fi experimentation as much as classic Afrobeat organ. They grooved at lower dynamic levels, which is quite the accomplishment. The horn mics didn’t cut over the drums and bass enough, and I found myself wanting Antibalas to have a more uniform stage presence – Amayo’s a very strong frontman, but the rest of the musicians (especially the horns) had such disparate stage behaviour.
Femi Kuti’s band, Positive Force, came out blazing, with a five-man horn section and ample rhythm section, clad in blue, red and white gowns, complemented by three dancers/backup vocalists. The band has obviously checked out Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, not solely through Afrobeat’s assimilation of those rhythms but also through their choreography and horn riffs. I thought I heard some elements of new American gospel, like Kirk Franklin, in the mix as well, though that music is also a derivative of EW&F big band funk. Kuti has grown greatly as a musician, playing saxophone with far more confidence than on record. He’s also a charismatic showman and bandleader, cueing the band at all times. The band attacked the rhythms and syncopations with drive, authenticity and fervour. I left after the band’s outstanding cover of “Water No Get Enemy,” as the relentless groove and stifling temperature of Metropolis became too much to handle.
(An abridged version of this review appears at Panpot. Tickets provided by FIJM.)