Chicago Afrobeat Project
Thursday · The Mad Frog
Imagine John Coltrane, Bob Marley, Quincy Jones and Malcolm X all rolled into one person. It takes this amalgam to approach the impact that Fela Kuti had on music in Africa and beyond. When he passed in 1997, this performer, composer and political activist left a legacy in the form of AfroBeat, a musical style-cum-political movement that he is credited with founding. Inspired by both the Free Jazz movement and the Civil Rights struggles of 1960s America, Fela began combining elements of Funk/Dance rhythms (known in West Africa as High-Life) and extended improvisation with Agit-Prop lyrics in his home of Nigeria. His combination of primal music and confrontational attitude was like a spark amongst tinder in the post-colonial African landscape, swelling his influence in the same way Bob Dylan's spread in the U.S. As his career progressed, the stories of Fela's personal and professional struggles against opponents of social change became the stuff of legend, and this is how he is viewed today. Those who continue the AfroBeat tradition demonstrate their devotion to Fela by concentrating on his musical contributions. Chicago Afrobeat Project is no exception. The ensemble combines all of the style's traditional elements: a large number of instruments (including horns, percussion and all of the trappings of a Funk outfit), rhythmic repetition and dizzying song lengths. When CABP gets their groove rolling, it's like nothing a typical Jam Band can conjure. Hypnotic thumping transports you back in time and across the globe to witness the conception of modern Funk, Hip Hop, R&B and Techno music like a boiling, gaseous nebula spitting out suns.
The band started in 2002 with a small group experimenting in a Chicago loft. When the project found their direction and muse in Kuti, things really started to snowball. Members have come and gone, but the group maintains their timeless chemistry, mesmerizing audiences from Jazz festivals to World Music summits with the pulse of their notorious forebear. (Ezra Waller)
Original Superstars of Hip Hop Tour featuring MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick and Digital Underground
Friday · Annie's
Encouraged by Yo! MTV Raps and BET's Rap City, Hip Hop's second generation brought the subculture to worldwide prominence. Subsequently, stores in Everyhood, USA, exploited Hip Hop's idiosyncratic fashions, and, hopelessly imitating, we bought junk — the Pro Wing sneakers, four-finger rings that looked like brass knuckles and hollow rope chains that we coated with clear nail polish to make the shine last.
A generation later, we are grown-up, more polished and annoy our children with our music. Of course, if they need a quick history lesson, see below, for why the folks on Friday's "Legends of Hip Hop" show at Annie's are legends:
· Ever-serious as Shaft shaking down the man, Big Daddy Kane's "Ain't No Half Steppin" told sucker MCs to "pick a BC date, 'cause they're history," and his usage of punchline metaphors became his niche, eventually earning Long Live the Kane a five-mic rating from The Source Magazine.
· Lyrically and figuratively, Lana Moorer (aka MC Lyte) was always "Lyte as a Rock." At 16, she ripped into an ex whose rep was "Paper Thin," and when rappers Antoinette and Roxanne Shante decided to beef, Lyte told them to "Shut the Eff Up." Audio Two claimed "Top Billin' back in 1988," but their half-sister continuously cascaded the charts with "Cha Cha Cha," "Poor Georgie," "Cold Rock a Party" and "Ruffneck," for which Lyte earned Rap's first Gold record in 1993.
· If the future of the Funk ever happened, it did with Digital Underground. Cleverly combining Shock G's wit and a catalog of Funkadelic samples, they bridged the gap between your mama's music and being young and dumb on groundbreaking albums Sex Packets and Sons of the P, the latter of which introduced Tupac Shakur on "Same Song."
· The consummate storyteller, Slick Rick kept us listening with his cautionary street tales ("Children's Story," "Hey Young World"), hilarious sexual escapades ("Mona Lisa," "Indian Girl") and Brit accent, after he hit the scene with Doug E. Fresh in 1985 with the unsurpassable classics, "La-Di-Da-Di" and "The Show." (Mildred C Fallen)
Blanche with The Greenhornes and Machine Go Boom
Saturday · The Comet
Most of the swampland in Michigan is up north, but there must be at least a small patch near Detroit that harbors Blanche, the brooding Alt.Country quintet that defies every conception of what their city's musical output should sound like. This band is the third in a series of evolutionary steps for Dan John Miller, following Goober and the Peas and Two-Star Tabernacle. Although those bands produced a more famous alum in Jack White, their sound is more traceable to the slanted Americana that Miller purveys. Blanche's centerpiece is undoubtedly his interplay with wife (and bassist) Tracee Mae. Their mixture of ominous male voice (with more than a hint of twang) and soft, airy feminine vocals is sublime. This and their creepy chemistry (not too dissimilar from Jack and Meg's) make for a show in itself. Add Dave Feeny's mournful pedal steel, Lisa Jannon's timid drumming and Jack Lawrence's jerky banjo (The Greenhornes bassist replaced original banjo/autoharp player Patch Boyle) and you've got a full-blown circus of Gothic mountain music. Another interesting ingredient is that only Feeny is playing the instrument to which he is most accustomed. Perhaps as a result of this novelty, the band's dark and melancholy creations have a tentativeness about them, but are very energetic at the same time. It sounds a bit like a Bad Seeds LP played at 45 RPM. Blanche's full-length debut, If We Can't Trust the Doctors, was originally released by Cass Records then picked up by V2 in the fall of last year. Shortly thereafter, they went on the road with The Kills, and played shows sporadically until last month's tour with The Ditty Bops. While the band's profile has certainly been boosted by their affiliation with White (three-fifths of them played on the White-assisted Loretta Lynn album Van Lear Rose), Blanche's success will ultimately rest on their unique sound, an evocative spin on Country music, combining Dust Bowl era longing with today's extremes of sardonicism. A gorgeous preview of their postmodern style can be found at blanchemusic.com, captured in lush photos and videos by Kevin Carrico. (EW)