HERALDS OF THE GROOVE: THE BUDOS BAND
The Budos Band
The Budos Band 2 (Daptone)
"If you wanted them to, in suburbs no longer poor, norias would rotate, in their buckets the perfume of the newest sounds, off which the earth intoxicates itself in its infernal folds..." "Samba" Aime Cesaire
I have a friend, Mikail who managed to sneak over from Moscow in the eighties before the end of the cold war. Aside from when it rained, he always wore a Pandanus hat. At first I thought it was some sort of affectation. Light, practical and relatively cheap, it was what he imagined an explorer would wear in lieu of a pith helmet.
He chose this hat because to him, America was something unknown, a vast land which beckons to be explored. The hat was a sort of totem, constantly reminding Mikail of his mission and allowing him to keep the faith as he washed dishes and bussed tables across the country.
Considering the scope of his expected journey and how increasingly passionate he became about it, he was rather private in his explorations, always silent until he discovered something new which excited him; Memphis barbecue, Kentucky bourbon, New York subway system...
To stay in a rut eternally amongst familiar things is the path of least resistance and to me, seems a form of punishment. I too seek to explore. This philosophy and endless games of chess were the common bonds Mikail and I shared.
He never wanted to visit me in Paris, he felt he could go nowhere else until he had seen all of America. I sort of understood but still thought he was missing out.
I was walking around Goutte D'Or. There were tables with pyramids of brightly colored scarves and sarongs, tiny kiosks on patched up bicycle wheels selling fried breads and plantains, shops under whose awnings leaned racks off of which hung dried roots looking like shrunken heads.
I had left my lighter on the table at home and ran into a store to grab some matches. I had naturally gravitated towards a record store. They had mainly vinyl and a few wire mesh cylindrical bins of CDs made in Spain and Portugal. To be polite I poked around a minute before asking for some matches. The music playing caused a stirring of the part of our brains which remembers earliest memories of the emotional landscape of our species, that primal twitch which can sometimes be induced by listening to old Charlie Patton records or seeing a beautiful woman cry. This was slightly different though, it may be because it was less associated with the western music tradition. This achieved its effect not so much from the music's cadence but the groove.
I had to have it.
Despite the heat I let the scarf I had bought for Gina loosely fall over my shoulders so that I would have more room in my book bag for the music I was going to gorge myself on.
The perfume of grilled meat, flowers and alien colored herbs crushed into powder, the tide of bodies washing over the cobblestones, the unison of its movement generating a heat which calls forth the need to have a drink, the gem like glistening of the ice cubes making me rich at least until they melt.
I do not remember dinner that night nor much to Gina's disappointment, declining to go out for drinks afterwards.
I went home alone, to listen to my new music.
Very quickly, within the span of two albums and some Pastis I was hooked. I would become a sort of Marlow going up river deep into the heart of groove.
Fela Kuti (1938-1997) was born in Nigeria. His father played piano well but was not musical in any formal sense. His family was middle class, politically active and also involved deeply with their community; the two generations before Fela being ministers of the Protestant church.
His parents envisioned him becoming a doctor and sent him to study in London (1958) where he quickly changed the course of his studies to music at The Trinity School of Music.
Fela had always been deeply interested in his cultural roots believing they should be both honored and preserved. After several years of school he abandoned his studies feeling they were too "Eurocentric". He formed his first group Koola Lobitos (1961) which gigged around the London area.
Feeling the need to further be nourished by the soil on which he was born he returned to Nigeria in 1963, forming a new version of his group.
This new version of his group was less rigid in what components made up the music. It drew from various sources including high life, jazz, traditional music of his native region and funk.
In a lightly veiled political move, he dubbed the music Afro-Beat in criticism to what he felt was the jettisoning of the artistic musical roots by his peers in favor of more Western leaning pop confections.
Afro Beat like other long lasting musical genres shares the commonality of having diverse components which come together to make something new, yet artistically connected to its antecedents.
Also a common occurrence with non pop music is the gestation period in which the music created within the regional constraints of one place must travel and then come back to be fully birthed.
Afro-Beat drawing as it did from so many elements started upon Fela's return home and his bands five year residency at his club Afro Shrine. An eight month tour of America with L.A serving as a base and then Fela returned home with concrete ideas of Afro Beat and the added power which comes to any artist through exposure of their works.
In this way it shares some similarities in how it incubated with jazz which was an American invention that then needed to go over to Europe where it was better appreciated before returning home further empowered and ready for a serious of growth spurts/pains.
While jazz had works and players contributing to its cannon from all over the country if not the globe, the 52nd Street (1930-1958) scene in NYC with its long row of famous clubs was the holy land of jazz which birthed many of the modern jazz era's finest moments and players.
After a roughly thirty year reign the party was over. Urban renewal, musicians and composers leaving for the other coast, Europe and jazz no longer being the music of youth as pop superseded it.
There were still cohesive movements and groups to be found in New York although not always as widely known as what went on during the 52nd Street hey days.
Cuban exiles bringing their musical traditions, the Nuyorican renaissance, the downtown sound, the loft crowds, the No Wavers and Knitting Factory acolytes.
With an area possessing such an artistic pedigree of freedom and multi-ingredient genres it is not surprising that one can still find new and exciting things.
As I explored Fela's work it lead me to people he influenced sometimes indirectly through osmosis.
The Budos Band is from Staten Island. They are a thirteen piece ensemble who carry the torch of their groove forefathers while remaining their own men. Their albums are on the Daptone Records label. The label serves as a sort of sonic midwife to a new generation of mad aural scientists which also includes label mates Sugarman 3, The Dakatris (who would morph into AntiBalas) all effectively creating new groove hybrids.
Their music has a slight retro feel, recalling some of the better days of funk. This retro aspect though, avoids all kitsch and nostalgia being merely one color on their palette.
There is a great authenticity to the music. It embraces certain ingredients which made up Afro-Beat but also some of the music which was initially inspired by Afro-Beat once it broke the constraints of locality. The ensemble draws from Fela but also has aspects of late sixties early seventies Miles Davis who delved deeply if not into Afro-Beat then the techniques of non-Westernized African music, merging it with the rock rumblings then becoming popular and the improvisatory energy so vital to jazz.
The way tension and release is achieved through typical western music has always widely differed from non-western music. Often non-Western music whether it is from Africa, India, Asia or the Middle-East forgoes these goals, preferring instead to use patterns to create not release but mood/atmosphere. If one were to visualize a Western piece of music it may look like a graph chart with its jagged red ascending line where as a non western piece would more closely resemble a series of concentric circles after a pebble is thrown into a reflecting pool. A partial reason for this is non-Western music has a far longer history of being used for ritual/social occasion so there has never been the need to construct it in such a way as to take the listener on a linear journey where as its Western counterpart was more often used as entertainment a construct from which the listener is once removed from all aspects save that of an audience/voyeur.
"Origin of Man" begins with a free-jazz blast call of horns and then morphs into a soul groove motif with guitar and keyboards low in the mix lending a sort of Stax-Volt feel. Like the entire album, its rich in atmosphere. The horns return, playing in unison a sort of Spanish feel, Spain flavored by its Moorish inflections. The trumpet offers up a Solea and is joined by keyboards. There is something dark and beautiful about the song, as if observing a secret and being able to enjoy it because no one will ever ask you to tell. It is shadows on the walls of a club dancing because the flames of the table's votive is flickering.
"Scorpion" makes you realize how subtle and adept the band is at layering sounds in the way the multi-percussionists bolster the piece over the horns which take turns making lead statements.
All their songs create a groove but the repetition is never monotonous nor is it any kind of sonic short hand used in place of chops. Their groove comes from elliptical patterns and layering of sounds more than merely beats.
The Budos Band has an over all sound but each musician's identity and the diverse components which come together within the span of each piece are always noticeable and this allows for the album to withstand repeated listenings.
"Ride or Die" has a great fuzzed out keyboard pattern over which the percussion and horns play. The guitar throughout the album adds sonically to the mix while never distracting by breaking from taste.
This song shows too that musicians can remain authentic while adding elements of what is the vernacular for them, what influences their voices that they experience personally within the time they live. In this way too there is not the slightest impression of their art being trapped under museum glass growing stale the way even some of the better jazz musician's output does now.
This song also shows the always present great interplay among the ensemble, you get the feel of true interaction and not just memorized song charts or road tested numbers. There is a vitality despite this album being a studio affair.
"Mas O Menos" has a great back and forth rhythmic figure between organ and guitar. The trumpet solos in the middle register and dances across the piece much the way the music creates the itch for one to do. There is, throughout the album no repeated formula in regards to where solos go, who solos or even how the solos are fitted into a piece. In this way the ensemble's influences are best represented.
Clocking in at about thirty seven minutes the whole album is fantastic with pristine sound. There are no liner notes.
I really enjoyed this album and will explore more of their oeuvre. It is not an album I could put on at any time of the day but I mean no slight by that. This is a characteristic of some of the music in my collection which I hold most dear.
Obey and explore the groove, it's well worth while.
The Budos Band-Budos Band 2 (Daptone Records)
(image above: Blues for Karla, a pastel by the author Wayne Wolfson)
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