ONE TIME ONLY: Antibalas (above) and the Roots have been jamming together off and on since September, but no one knows exactly what will happen at the live show.
We're not previewing the Red Bull Sound Clash just because the buzz-beverage overlords supply Phoenix
headquarters with enough voltage to paralyze a petting zoo. The company's grand upcoming event, which pits the legendary Roots crew against polyrhythmic Brooklyn orchestra Antibalas in all-out, double-staged, trans-venue warfare, is a one-time-only marvel. Neglecting to investigate its genesis would be an insult to hip-hop heads and Afrobeat geeks everywhere (or at least around Boston, where we alone get to revel in the crossfire).
Once upon a rhyme this past September, after returning from a three-week performance dash across Europe and Asia, Roots drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson heeded a friend's advice to reject exhaustion and check the Off Broadway Fela Kuti bio-play Fela! Thud junkie that he is, ?uest simply couldn't fight the lure of a revue celebrating the Nigerian luminary's genius. Hours later, after basking in pounding percussion and impassioned dialogue, he didn't turn in but instead churned out a 1000-word-plus e-mail to friends, fans, and family titled "Tonight I witnessed a miracle." It began:
Ladies and gentleman this is Ahmir. it is 5:58am in the morning and I just got home. i witnessed a miracle tonight and it is a MUST you read this. and when I say miracle you have to think this on the level of sam jackson trying to convince john travolta in pulp fiction to acknowledge the miracle that just occurred (them escaping death by *this* much).
The letter, in which ?uest assures everyone that "this is NOT just some 'oh ahmir is being dramatic shit,' " applauds what he describes as "the BEST MUSICAL EVER CREATED." To his surprise and delight, Fela! was not at all Broadway-ized, and thanks to a certain predominantly Caucasian New York collective, its sonic component was especially resounding. Assigned the Jurassic task of conjuring Kuti's massive Africa 70 and Egypt 80 bands, Bushwick Afrobeat outfit Antibalas didn't just step to the plate. "These funky white boys," as ?uest calls them, homered with the bases loaded:
next to the dap kings, the antibalas are the 2nd most important retro/revision band working today. the scrutiny and standard they uphold in creating AUTHENTIC afrobeat music can only impress the music snob in me. they have the baton when it comes to carrying on fela's torch . . . yes even more than fela's two sons who record today.
?uest is one of music's foremost advocates of authenticity. He's jammed with bassist Christian McBride as the Philadelphia Experiment, recorded with Joshua Redman, and produced for D'Angelo and Al Green. So after witnessing Antibalas "gel" in ways that he hadn't seen a "group of black musicians do in 30 years," he had no choice but to reach out.