For just over two decades, Brooklyn-based musical collective Antibalas have been proudly waving the Afrobeat flag. What makes them such a unique act is that, instead of copying pioneers of the genre like Fela Kuti and simply taking a revivalist approach, they have expanded on it and forged a sound that is simultaneously faithful yet fresh and new. They also put on a damn good live show, and on Saturday, February 22nd, they hit Portland, Oregon’s newest venue Stage 722 for a sold out show.
Touring in support of their new album the Fu Chronicles, the 11-member band hit the stage and jumped right into “Go je je,” a slow and simmering groover that featured the trombone prominently. This served as a proper introduction, with the large band layering on sounds and steadily building momentum before the group’s lead singer AMAYO made his entrance. Launching into the politically charged “Dirty Money,” AMAYO let his commanding vocals intertwine with the band as they constructed walls of rhythm around him. This would be a theme throughout the night, with AMAYO bouncing vocals off his band mates and them returning with flourishes of trumpets, saxophone, trombone, percussive beats or guitar. The band would play a handful of songs from the Fu Chronicles while sprinkling in older tunes. Like a chef adding seasoning, AMAYO used his keyboard to insert moments of funkiness into each song. Onstage, there was a clear democracy to the band’s approach as different members took the spotlight and dished out perfectly executed solos, all of it serving the greater good of the music. It was fascinating to watch them work in influences of hip-hop, soul and psychedelia into the different songs while AMAYO served as a sort of spiritual guide for both the band and the audience.
When watching a band like Antibalas, there is really only one response: dancing. In Portland, the crowd responded to the music by doing exactly that. The magic of Antibalas is their ability to keep the level of energy at a high and never let the groove stop. Though the band is heavily influenced by Afrobeat, they have forged their own sound over the course of more than twenty years and have earned their rightful place in the genre. Even more than two decades in, the band showed Portland that they still put on one of the best live shows around.