(Full Cut Records, CD)
Afrobeat is one of my favorite musical styles. Highly danceable and politically charged, the genre possesses a rough-edged potency that's impossible to ignore. Still, I admit to being skeptical of Aphrodesia, an 11-piece Afrobeat group from San Francisco. It seemed unlikely that a mostly white, American act could tap into the polyrhythmic protest of vintage Afrobeat. To my surprise, they come pretty close.
Aphrodesia's latest, Frontlines, borrows the grinding pulse, gritty horns and spidery guitar licks of traditional Afrobeat for its own political agenda. Instead of protesting corrupt African regimes, they're bemoaning our own. Lyrically, the group focuses on protecting both the environment and the rights of people worldwide.
The band, which features ex-Burlingtonian David Sartore on guitar, is as tight as they come. Musically, they've got all the bases covered: buoyant low end, interlocking melodies and a percussion section that won't quit. Aphrodesia recently made history as the first American act to perform at the New Africa Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria, an indicator of their authenticity.
Vocalist Lara Maykovich is the band's energetic ringleader. The two years she spent living in Ghana and Zimbabwe in the late '90s likely affected her worldview, both musically and politically. "There's a war on drugs, a war on crime / A war on poverty, war all the time," she sings in the incendiary "Mr. President." "Well, I don't believe and I never did / My indoctrination as a kid," she continues, as blaring horns punctuate her melody.
"We Never Sleep" incorporates Cuban rhythms into a vibrant tune about a decidedly un-vibrant subject: death. "Snack Nation," finds Maykovich railing against consumer culture. The lyrics are decent, but her delivery -- a decidedly goofy half-rap -- leaves something to be desired.
The hypnotic ballad "Flat Tire" finds the singer on more familiar (and convincing) melodic territory. With its ringing, bell-like percussion and evocative bass line, the song shimmers like ocean waves reflecting sunlight. The disc wraps up with a modified version of Fela Kuti's "No Agreement." Featuring spoken-word samples of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the tune paints a chilling picture of governmental hubris. "Bring 'em on," taunts the Commander-in-Chief over a slinky beat. "No agreement today / No agreement tomorrow," is the band's defiant reply.
Aphrodesia uphold Afrobeat's musical and spiritual tenets without resorting to mimicry. By fusing its own observations and experiences with traditional motivations, the band makes a solid impact. Hear them on Tuesday, April 18, at Nectar's.