Get ready CU – it’s time to get funky. This
Saturday, the riled up rhythms and jazz-groove music of Afrobeat are hitting the Canopy Club via a Chicago-infused, nine-member band called the Chicago Afrobeat Project.
The genre of Afrobeat, originated and popularized in the late ’60s, is a three-part African percussion, jazz and funk rhythms . Generally, the band is a fairly large group of members playing an assortment of instruments with varying vocal styles.
“These styles really attracted me because of their untamed and raw sound that was similar to the music I grew up listening to,” Percussionist Marshall Greenhouse said when asked what attracted him to Afrobeat.
The genre of Afrobeat was birthed by the funk-jazz guru of Nigeria, Fela Kuti, who was influenced by the American free-jazz movement. Deeply inspired by political concerns, Fela Kuti sent controversial messages of injustice and government corruption through his music, oftentimes improvising, thus paving the way for the essential part of the Afrobeat sound: improvisation.
Recently, the genre of Afrobeat has experienced a surge in popularity owing in part to modern Afrobeat performers such as the Chicago Afrobeat Project (CAbP), who have resurfaced the compellingly energetic, and completely dance-worthy, funk-groove music.
The new generation of Afrobeat has evolved as a re-introduction to funky beats. More properly called Afropop or Groove, this more contemporary version of Afrobeat includes a DJ who re-mixes Afrobeat songs. Although CAbP has many musicians, they do not have a steady DJ. CAbP is still dedicated to Afrobeat roots, consisting only of instrumental musicians who have refreshed the Afrobeat scene through contemporary and Chicago twists.
“There are so many great musicians and styles of music out there from all over the world that most people here in the states don’t know about. CAbP, and other Afrobeat groups in the US, are helping spread the Afrobeat sound to new audiences,” said Marshall Greenhouse. “Of course, I really like it when people see us that are familiar with the genre, but what excites me the most is when someone hears us for the first time and loves the sound so much they begin to check out artists such as Fela Kuti.”
In celebration of their first album release, the self-titled Chicago Afrobeat Project, the CAbP has most recently been performing a fusion of their own songs with covers by Fela Kuti and other Afrobeat versions of hip-hop and rock classics.
The CAbP’s first release has been charted for the past nine weeks and is currently at its peak at #10 on the CMJ New World Music Charts.
After three years of touring, CAbP’s visit to Champaign-Urbana will be their second performance at the Canopy Club. With their last visit in mind, anyone can expect an all-night dancing groove-a-thon (they are rumored to have people dancing until 5 a.m.!) – no energy drinks or alcohol required.
The band itself is a fusion of well-matched musicians who have successfully combined the Chicago experimental music scene with the resurfaced Afrobeat funk. The band includes drums, guitar, keyboards, trombone, baritone sax, tenor sax, bass guitar and congas – as well as a few other unique instruments that appear in select shows.
Although the band is so large in number, no one musician has developed as the frontman. This is especially evident in the band’s extended jam songs. Throughout any given performance, each member emerges as the band’s lead in a “musical burst” and then blends back into the collective music to let another member step forward. Through improvisation, the band members create a distinct personality for each of their songs.
“The roots of our music is of course Afrobeat, so we compose with the idea of writing Afrobeat, but our individual influences from the other styles of music we’ve played and listened to throughout our life come into effect as well,” Marshall Greenhouse said.
CAbP began practicing their music in a third-story loft on Lake Street in downtown Chicago before officially coming together as a band in 2002. Since then, the band has developed a network of supporters and friends who frequently appear as guest performers, dancers and musicians in select shows.
In tandem with spreading the sound of Afrobeat around the globe, CAbP has also infused itself into the Journalists Against AIDS Nigeria foundation (NAAIDS) by donating a percentage of all sales from their new album. NAAIDS is a non-profit organization that battles the AIDS epidemic in Nigeria by establishing communication programs through media-based and non-governmental advocacies. With the Nigerian legend Fela Kuti in mind, the CAbP remains connected to Afrobeat roots by returning to the community from which their music emerged.
With a steadily growing following around the world, CAbP has successfully established reverberating fan appraisal.
As best articulated by the West Virginian Graffiti: “[CAbP] have this creepy funk core to them that radiates through a thick African groove. You would have to be dead not to tap your foot to those guys.”
Come get down with the Chicago Afrobeat Project at the Canopy Club at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14. Tickets are $7.