Akoya at Bklyn Museum
I checked out the Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble playing First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum yesterday. On the heels of their tremendous debut CD, "Introducing The Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble," the band's been garnering much attention and acclaim.
They had us moving and grooving in the sweltering heat last night -- if I had closed my eyes I might have tele-transported to The Shrine -- though I was most captivated by a coupla white boys in the front row tryna "get down" wit it. They were reppin afrobeat hard, big-upping Akoya lead singer Kaleta's funky grooves (the Benin-born performer earned his chops performing and recording with Fela's Egypt 80).
Complete with a coupla japanese percussionists, some white brassmen, a shakeree-thumping latina, and her soulful co-backup sistah, Akoya was as much a Benetton ad as a crowded G-train.
Just like it happened with jazz, the time of white afrobeat bands is here, though many of the original keepers of the tradition are still around. I remember a Washington Post interview with Martin Perna of Antibalas, in which he said, "The new players are hardly African firebrands. They tend to be American, white and mostly suburban. The music even seems to be turning into a new, hybridized genre -- call it American Afrobeat -- with an agenda of its own."
But what is that agenda? These groups have the technique down cold, but what they may lack is the heart. Fela's band had such a potent, strident message of resistance that some of these multi-colored "spin" bands whitewash -- with a deliciously wonderful groove, yes, but one that is stripped of its political power or significance. Not to knock Kaleta, who clearly knows what he's singing about.
Cut to me, auditioning for a dance role in Bill T. Jones' Fela Kuti Project. (Yes, even a post-modern, avant garde choreographer such as Jones is staking a claim on afrobeat.) In a nutshell, there was a latina teaching choreo, accompanied by a white jam band, and critiqued by Bill and a bunch of suits in top hats and suspenders. It was freaky. Good thing I wasn't cast.
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