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It’s hard to believe that more than twenty years have passed since Antibalas’s humble beginning as a neighborhood dance / protest band in the block parties and underground parties in pre-gentrified Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Over the past two decades they have evolved into what The Guardian called “one of the world’s finest Afrobeat bands” while enjoying equal renown for their cross-genre collaborations with legends of popular music. With a heavy balance of experience and new blood, the group leaps into 2020 with their new Daptone Records full-length “Fu Chronicles.”
Founded in 1998 by saxophonist Martín Perna, early incarnations of the group included several members of The Dap-Kings including bassist / producer Gabriel Roth, guitarist Binky Griptite, keyboardist Victor Axelrod, conguero Fernando “Bugaloo Velez,” and trumpeter Anda Szilagyi. As the group expanded, it absorbed younger musicians from the Daptone family including bassist Nick Movshon (El Michels, Black Keys) and other musical natives and transplants from downtown Manhattan and North Brooklyn music scenes.
In 1999, Perna and Roth dropped in at an atelier / dojo belonging to Duke Amayo. They invited him to a neighborhood concert and then reached out to him later as an emergency substitute for a show. Amayo soon became a fixture in the group, first on percussion, then later on vocals, vibraphone, and keyboards and moving to center stage as the group’s frontman and creating the Afro-Spot, the band’s headquarters as well as the home of the first Daptone Records studio.
Over the next few years, the band performed several times a month throughout NYC at the Afro-Spot, at benefits, lofts, block parties, and at their Lower Manhattan weekly residency called “Africalia” with regular appearances by friends including Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, and The Sugarman Three. After their second release, “Talkatif” (2002, Ninja Tune), the group began touring heavily throughout North America and Europe including performances at Glastonbury, Montreux Jazz Festival, Coachella, Bonnaroo, and the Newport Jazz Festival. Over the years, expanded their travels to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South America, and most recently, Hong Kong.
In the late 2000s, after nearly ten years of road touring, Antibalas was chosen by choreographer Bill T Jones, to serve as the band for the Tony-award winning Broadway musical “Fela.” Around the same time, the band began to draw the attention of the Roots. The two groups joined with Public Enemy to perform a live version of the entire “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back” at the 2009 Roots Picnic as well as the Red Bull Battle of the Bands, as well as numerous guest appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Antibalas has also served as the house band for several star-studded tribute shows at Carnegie Hall and the Apollo Theater paying tribute to the music of Aretha Franklin, David Byrne, Paul Simon, and Billie Holiday, backing dozens including Allen Toussaint, Cee Lo Green, Sharon Jones, Santigold, and Angelique Kidjo.
Over the years, different members have traded production and composition duties from album to album. On the new album—“Fu Chronicles”—Amayo leads us through a thrilling sonic journey of kung fu meets Afrobeat, weaving together the strands of Edo and Yoruba cultural memory from Nigeria with his training and study in Chinese martial arts.
Recorded in the Summer of 2018, over seventeen musicians and singers crammed into the storied Daptone House of Soul in Bushwick to record the massive body of work. With live versions and arrangements stretching up to thirty minutes, Perna, Amayo, and Roth worked tirelessly to preserve the hypnotic power of the long-form live arrangements into six concise and powerful album tracks.
“Fu Chronicles” will be the eighth studio album from Antibalas, who have been releasing music over four decades; Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 (1999), Talkatif (2002), Who Is This America? (2004), Security (2007), Government Magic (2011), Antibalas (2012), Where the Gods are In Peace (2017), Fu Chronicles (2020)
With Love’s Last Chance, his brilliant new studio album and first solo release in five years, Taylor McFerrin has emerged as the “complete artist” he’s always dreamed of becoming, writing and singing his own lyrics and vocals on top of his dazzling instrumental and production work for the very first time. Recorded in his recently adopted hometown of Los Angeles, the collection finds McFerrin working with more freedom and spontaneity than ever before, tapping into the moment with captivating performances that blur the lines between old-school R&B, classic funk, experimental electronic music, and progressive jazz. Vintage synthesizers and keyboards dominate the sonic landscape, propelled at every turn by hypnotic percussion grooves and breezy melodies, and an adventurous sense of improvisation infuses the songwriting with an air of infinite possibility. It’s McFerrin’s voice that steals the show here, though, warm and tender with a gentle confidence. His vocals convey both deep intimacy and unsparing self-reflection, and their very presence on the album signals the start of a brand new chapter in an already-impressive career.
“Something deeper happens when you sing, something that lets listeners feel like they’re truly getting to know you,” McFerrin explains. “Singing brings me closer than ever to being able to share everything that’s going on inside of me.”
When McFerrin released Early Riser, his 2014 debut for Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, he largely focused on instrumentals, relegating the occasional vocal part to special guests (including his father, the ten-time GRAMMY Award-winner Bobby McFerrin). The collection -- which also featured appearances by Hiatus Kaiyote frontwoman Nai Palm, bass/production wizard Thundercat, and R&B titan Robert Glasper among others -- earned praise on both sides of the pond, with Pitchfork hailing it as “an album built for slow weekend mornings spent in bed with a loved one” and The Line Of Best Fit calling it “superb.” Tracks from the album racked up nearly 20 million streams on Spotify alone, and McFerrin landed festival dates everywhere from Glastonbury to Central Park Summerstage.
In addition to discovering the power of his voice on the new album, McFerrin also discovered a new approach to recording thanks to his work with the jazz fusion supergroup R+R=Now, which found him teaming up with Glasper, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Justin Tyson, and synth/vocoder player Terrace Martin, who’s produced Kendrick Lamar and Talib Kweli among others. Cut in just five days, the album offered up a masterclass in letting go and surrendering to the moment, in valuing emotional authenticity over technical perfectionism. It was an experience that reminded McFerrin of his father -- best known for the timeless mega-hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” -- who was a born improviser that gleefully shared his passion with his children at home and on the road.
“Our father was always just making music and singing, always down to jump onstage with anybody,” says McFerrin, whose sister Madison is also a critically acclaimed artist in her own right. “He was fearless and excited about the unknown and watching him perform taught us that the purest way to express yourself was to just be totally open and genuine and free.”
Love’s Last Chance is precisely that, a heartrending snapshot of love, faith, anxiety, and endurance, all delivered with honesty, empathy, and, virtuosity.
“I called this album Love's Last Chance because in life, you don’t get a million opportunities to get love right,” McFerrin concludes. “Sometimes, with both your art and your relationships, you realize that it's now or never. For my first time writing and singing my own lyrics, I didn’t want to be messing around with make believe and fantasy. This record is real life.”