Fourteen years ago, Antibalas was at the forefront of a burgeoning funk revival. Now, with its self-titled fifth album, the band appears to be on a victory tour with a release that incorporates and embellishes Afrobeat's mesmerizing rhythmic grooves with the group's own blend of jazz and soul — the initial touchstones of Afrobeat — tinged with a political consciousness.
The band's long break between albums — Antibalas comes five years after the release of Security — is the result of new opportunities that opened up and provided creative motivation for Antibalas's 13 exceptionally gifted players and arrangers. Several band members were a part of the Questlove-produced Broadway hit Fela!, a musical about the group's primary inspiration, the late Nigerian Afrobeat trailblazer Fela Kuti.
On this new six-track album, Antibalas offers a little of everything — from slinky, bustling percussion to hip-shimmy funk bursts and loose, undulating jams.
While the vocals are infrequent, they're deployed in almost every song, and to best effect on "The Ratcatcher," one of Antibalas' finest. Drums, horns, keyboards and bass enter in turn gathering behind a sick fusion guitar riff as the whole enterprise becomes a beacon for the Mothership. Horns burst into skronk then settle back into a jazzy groove. Finally, more than halfway through the eight-minute tune singer/conga player Duke Amayo delivers an infectious vocal line in Afro-Reggae style narrating the story of a rat-obsessed trap-building Ahab.
Other noteworthy tracks include the peculiarly trance-y, electronic-flavored "Ibéji," and the vibrant, surprisingly rocking "Dirty Money," for which they've also made a video contrasting fat-cat and newly unemployed Muppet-style puppets on different life trajectories.
Though at their best live, Antibalas have worked hard to replicate their stage energy in the studio, really nailing it on their last two albums and cementing the band's reputation for expansive, hypnotic worldbeat funk.
Catch Antibalas live at the Visulite Theatre on Sept. 28.
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For the first time in years, I feel confident that there will be new music…
So, how were they?