Antibalas are an eleven-piece Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band. They formed in 1998 just a year after the death of Fela Kuti. He was the Nigerian musician and political activist who invented Afrobeat.
“We like to say we didn’t invent Afrobeat, but invented with it,” says the band’s founder Martin Perna.
Their music builds on Afrobeat’s fusion of jazz, funk, Nigerian high-life, traditional West Africa rhythms and strong horn-driven percussion.
Antibalas's lead singer and percussionist Abraham Amayo is from Fela Kuti’s neighbourhood in Lagos, Nigeria; an area which plays a key role in that process.
“I’m able to bring a spiritual connection, because I’m from the neighbourhood where the music comes from and also I represent the African trying to experience the West, … the African who’s left his homeland, trying to promote his roots,” Amayo explains.
Antibalas recently came to RFI’s studio 136 where they played from their latest and 5th album Antibalas.
Amayo says the song Him Belly No Go Sweet is an homage to matriarchy.
"It means that if woman’s belly is not sweet, which means if she’s not happy, her counterpart the man will not be happy no matter what he does. So the most important thing is to try and compliment that happiness by making her happy and it’ll be all ok,” says Amayo.
A rather more enlightened view of women than Fela is reputed to have had.
But their denouncing of Wall Street and the sub-prime scandal in the song Dirty Money would not have been out of place in the Fela universe.
“Our money is dirty so it needs to be cleaned up,” says Amayo, who’s banking on Obama sorting that out if he gets re-elected.
You can also hear Antibalas playing a brand new piece called Parata. It means pirate in Spanish, but Amayo denies they’re out to fleece anyone, quite the contrary.
“We’re trying to give back, giving back energy and lost hope. It’s the concept of working as a group, having a common goal, that’s kind of where I see that song.”
More broadly Antibalas sees their take on Afrobeat as a universal music that can pull us onto a higher, less individualistic plane.
“It might represent a gateway for bringing us all back together. I think we’re going back to matriarchy which is a more subtle and more cyclical way of looking at things. We’re trying to represent that and this new era we’re entering”.
Antibalas are currently on tour in Europe.