What is it about bad wars and good protest music? When Antibalas says, "Class! We are here to teach you a lesson on the dance floor," they are not talking about the foxtrot. Our favorite bulletproof Afrobeat Orchestra this side of Brooklyn leads off the syllabus with the 11-minute title track on their new album, Who is This America? In the tradition of Fela Kuti, who spoke truth to Nigerian government corruption in the form of an irresistible bootyquake, the next tune, "Indictment," initiates legal proceedings where Mi-chael Moore left off.
If you still need to see the after-school special, the album cover art depicts the White House and a white collar criminal in a red, white and blue ski-mask hightailing it through an oil field like the Hamburglar.
Having a few Cubans in the Orchestra gives it the Latin tinge, taking us back to that '70s moment when a Rumble in the Jungle meant it was only good manners to invite Celia Cruz and Hector Lavoe for a salsa concert in Zaire just as legendary as the faceoff between Foreman and Ali. Organ, clavinet and saxophones add flashbacks of '60s soul, psychedelia and jazz. Dissonance inflicts the mood of moral retribution on "Pay Back Africa," and on "Sister," vocalist Duke Amayo shows he is not afraid to say the f-word ("feminist"). Brechtian fables like "Big Man" and the thundering "Elephant," with a reverb trombone solo, round out this new collection of folktales about the military industrial complex.
"Obanla'e" borrows from a Yoruba proverb to sum up the whole philosophy of Afrobeat: "Speak sharply to the small snail to fix the road." Another great philosopher, Bob Marley, said that when the rain comes, it don't fall on one man's house top. With Antibalas' latest, you can actually hear the sound of righteous rain falling on one house top in particular.
There is no better time to see the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra than this Friday, July 23 at the Cat's Cradle.