Antibalas – Self-titled

Antibalas have returned after a five year hiatus with a new record simply titled Antibalas. The self-titled album was released Tuesday and is the band’s first on Daptone Records. While the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band has not produced a new record in several years, the members of Antibalas have kept themselves busy. A number of the musicians worked in the pit bands for the hit Broadway musical FELA!, which was recently the subject of censorship by the NYPD. If they weren’t involved with the musical, they were working on solo projects or playing with artists like Amy Winehouse, TV on the Radio, the Roots, Paul Simon or Medeski Martin & Wood. The current lineup of the band features 12 multiethnic members with a range of ages; the youngest is 21, the oldest 54. The name Antibalas is taken from the phrase “chaleco antibalas,” which is Spanish for “bulletproof vest.” The interpretation of the name is something that stuck with Martín Perna, who founded Antibalas in 1997, soon after the creator of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, passed away.

“I like the double meaning of that. You have the idea of this music that’s very hard and durable, but at the same time the literal translation can be seen as a challenge to the idea of building empire through violence.” – Martín Perna

For the new record, Antibalas, the band recruited former member Gabriel Roth, who used to play guitar in an early version of the band under the stage name Bosco Mann, to produce the album. He was at the helm for the first three records and has built himself a reputation over the years for his insistence on eight-track analog recording. Roth is best known for his minimalist engineering and production on Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones records cut at Daptone.

Antibalas recorded their new album in about two weeks at the Daptone studio, known as the House of Soul, in Bushwick, Brooklyn. While their sound has always been rooted in Afrobeat, there are subtle touches on Antibalas that make it one of their best records yet. Victor Axelrod’s organ and electric piano and Marcos Garcia’s guitar are up front and steady in the mix, offering sweet melodies and the perfect backing for the horns and vocals. The analog recording results in a dense, warm sound that has no equal.

The first song and single, “Dirty Money” is a direct commentary on the Wall Street mishaps that have shaped the economic downturn. The terrific video, directed by the Fine Brothers, reveals a 1% billionaire muppet, Samuel Wallbucks, his financial empire and the wake left behind by recent layoffs. One muppet has just been fired from his job and is seeking a way out of his misery. In the end, the jobless muppet confronts the Wallbucks Towers, smashing it apart at the seams with a mallet. The heavy funk propels “Dirty Money” and sets the scene for the rest of the album, which is filled with songs the band never recorded as well as new tracks that will get you up and dancing in no time. Grab the LP/CD/Digital and catch Antibalas at a free show when they open for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at Williamsburg Park on August 18th.

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