In the five years since Brooklyn-based Afrobeat revivalists Antibalas last released an LP, the band’s been plenty busy, with some members guesting on friends’ albums, and others working on the arrangements and performance of the musical Fela!, about the life and career of Nigerian musician/activist Fela Kuti. Taking to the stage doesn’t seem to have had any effect on Antibalas, except that the band’s new self-titled album sounds even more like Kuti than ever. But frankly, Antibalas’ style hasn’t changed much since he group released Liberation Afrobeat Vol. 1 back in 2000: Founder Martin Perna still leads a dozen or so horn players, percussionists, and guitarists through polyrhythmic, deeply groovy dance tracks, punctuated by call-and-response political sloganeering and African phrases. If anything, Antibalas is more of a “square one” album than Liberation Afrobeat. The title is not incidental.
Reunited with former member Gabriel Roth—best-known as the head honcho at Daptone Records and the leader of The Dap-Kings—Antibalas retreat from the experimental bent of 2007’s John McEntire-produced Security and get back to the sound of a big group of musicians in a single room, trading licks. But what initially sounds like simple jamming reveals itself on repeated listens to be incredibly complex, as Antibalas shifts gears within songs, building up to eruptive, jazzy horn-blasts. The effect of the album as a whole is like taking a long trip through the world of today, from the ironically peppy survey of economic inequality in the opener “Dirty Money” to the frenzied closer “Sare Kon Kon,” which starts fast and then gets even quicker, reflecting the breakneck pace of modern life. The music is retro, but in no way outdated. This is “world” music for our increasingly globalized times.