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Antibalas | MICHAEL DAVIS

In the music spotlight: Antibalas

SHARE In the music spotlight: Antibalas
SHARE In the music spotlight: Antibalas

With acts including Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Charles Bradley, New York’s Daptone Records has made its reputation by ushering a return to vitality for original soul music. Another of the label’s prominent bands flies a different flag. The 12-piece band Antibalas has done more than any American band since Talking Heads released their 1980 album “Remain in Light” to champion the sound of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and carry it into the future.

While David Byrne and company fused Kuti’s sound with post-punk and art-rock, the 12-piece Brooklyn-based band craft their songs with more reverence for their fundamental influences. It’s no surprise that the group was tapped to arrange and perform the score for Broadway musical “Fela!” that celebrated the influential bandleader’s life. Still, Antibalas’ modern take weaves jazz, hip-hop and protest music into its expansive sound.

The group has released its own music since 1999, from debut single “Uprising” to 2017’s “Where the Gods are in Peace” album. Songs like “Gold Rush” are potent party starters featuring extended musical passages of slinky keyboard, snaky guitar leads and rowdy brass solos. Like their patron saint Kuti’s music, the eminently danceable polyrhythms clear the way for lyrics that pack a potent political punch about issues close to home.

The group explained the motivation behind “Gold Rush” on its Facebook page. “The world we live in is built on stolen land, stolen resources, and borrowed time. This song is an acknowledgement of that history, as well as a conversation with the present moment we live in, and the new types of gold rushes that create their booms and inevitable busts. The song asks the question, ‘Where did we go wrong?’ Perhaps we can, together, come up with a good answer.”

The theatrical “Tombstown” suite references the Wild West while Duke Amayo sings of stewardship of the land and respect for those who came before. The tale’s moral is a message to contemporary leaders: “When it comes your turn, do good, pass it on.”

The sprawling group will bring its music for the head and feet to Thalia Hall on Friday, including earlier singles like “Dirty Money.” Amayo makes no attempt to hide the band’s social agenda. “We fight the hardest when things are about to change,” he says in a press release. “Our generation has the incredible ability to make things better for generations to come.”

* Antibalas, with Lowdown Brass Band, 8 p.m. Sep. 29, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $27; thaliahallchicago.com.

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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