In 1998, Brooklynite Martin Perna assembled a group of musicians to play at a Harlem poetry gathering, christening the band Antibalas, the Spanish word for bulletproof. Perna intended Antibalas as an Afrobeat tribute to a pair of World Music icons from the ’70s: Nigerian activist and Pop star Fela Kuti and his Afrika 70 band and Puerto Rican pianist Eddie Palmieri and his Harlem River Drive Orchestra, both of whom incorporated elements of Jazz, Funk and Dub into music that reflected their respective heritages.
Antibalas ultimately swelled to an 11-piece band, wrote original material, played lofts, block parties and parks and established a two-year club residency before Rudolph Giuliani’s repressive push to cleanse New York shuttered the venue.
Over the course of 14 years and five full-length albums, Antibalas has featured a constantly shifting line-up but its musical manifesto has remained unchanged. In 2008, the band directly honored Fela Kuti by arranging and performing his music for the off-Broadway production Fela!, which moved to Broadway the following year and scored 11 Tony nominations and two subsequent wins.
After a five year recording break, Antibalas hit the studio with Gabriel Roth, their former guitarist and the founder of Daptone Records, for the group’s self-titled fifth album, which Roth released on his label. With a relentless touring schedule and some high profile exposure — including its national television debut last month on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon — Antibalas is finally getting the widespread recognition its has long deserved.
ANTIBALAS performs Saturday, Sept. 15 with The Pinstripes at the Ballroom at the Taft Theatre downtown. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.