Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Asiko at Zebulon-February 2008

What do you think of when someone says the word Afrobeat? Do you think of energy? Dancing? Do you think of Africa, maybe Nigeria where Fela Anikulapo Kuti invented the genre? Or maybe you think of Brooklyn? Do you think of bands like Antibalas or Akoya that have contributed to the explosion of Afrobeat in the area?
Well, when someone says the word Afrobeat to me, I think of one place: Zebulon. I think of the cramped bar in Williamsburg, packed with all kinds of people dancing their asses off to the hard driving rhythms of Asiko, the band I saw shake Zebulon to its core with its deep grooves and intricate arrangements last Saturday night.
Asiko Afrobeat Ensemble is a New York based Afrobeat band formed in 2003 by Foly Kolade, the band's leader, vocalist and percussionist. Asiko has a very inventive sound. Some Afrobeat bands are unwilling to change the form or arrangement of their songs from traditional Afrobeat progressions. Asiko is the opposite: in the course of one song, they will shift from a straight-ahead Afrobeat sound to funk to dub back to Afrobeat. At one point they played an entire song that was straight highlife. Their whole repertoire had an edge of latin flavor supplied by the congas. Shades of jazz and rock were very audible as well.
Their instrumentation provided an avalanche of sounds and texture: two singers, two tenor saxophones, trumpet, trombone, guitar, bass, keyboard, drum set, congas, and a Yoruba talking drum (traditional Nigerian drum played with a stick held underneath the armpit to change the pitch). All their horn players were very tight especially the two tenor sax players. They had a controlled aggression to their sound that let them attack their solos with a lot of attitude while simultaneously maintaining a tight, smooth sound. The trumpet and trombone players killed their solos too.
Foly Kolade hails from Ogidi, Nigeria. He is of the same indigenous ethnic group as Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Yoruba. Asiko is a Yoruba word for time, not so much time of day, but an appointed moment, connoting fate such as "Your time is now" or "The time has come." Kolade has trained and performed with Roy Ayers, Mariam Makeba, and George Benson throughout his career. Amayo, the lead singer of Antibalas, was in attendance Saturday night. He joined the ensemble for a song as a guest vocalist.
Amayo is no stranger to Zebulon much like any other Afrobeat fan or performer. His side band, Fu-Arkist-Ra performs there on a monthly basis. Several other local Afrobeat bands have cut their teeth on Zebulon's stage: Akoya, The Superpowers, Nomo, Zozo, Stuart Bogie's side project (the tenor player from Antibalas) Super Human Happiness, as well as the aforementioned Fu-Arkist-Ra to name a few. Other local world music stars have monthly residences at Zebulon such as Baye Kouyate and the Tougarakes not to mention the dub and jazz that frequents the venue as well.
Very few clubs in the city can compete with Zebulon's lineup of live music. They put on rockin' shows seven nights a week, never charging a cover. Their drink menu includes six dollar Sierra Nevadas and Brooklyn Lagers as well as seven dollar Hoegarten and Boddington's. A full bar of moderately priced cocktails are always available as well. You don't go to Zebulon for the drinks though; you go for the world class music, the electric atmosphere, and the diverse clientele. Where else can you go for a slammin' show any night of the week for free and moderately priced drinks? That's why Zebulon is in my top five favorite bars in Brooklyn.

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