April 10, 2007
Antibalas has been around in some shape or form for the past ten years, its tunes carried by the hypnotic rhythms of Afrobeat, a style of Nigerian funk popularized in the 1970s by bandleader Fela Kuti. Its new album, “Security,” is a departure from the band’s past recordings, as it boasts a new label, ANTI, and the stylistic touches of a new producer, Chicago’s John McEntire. The result is an expansive musical experience that’s equally enjoyable on headphones or a packed dance floor.
The 17-member band spins out new sounds on “Security,” which resonates with a call for social justice and political responsibility. With song titles like “Filibuster XXX” and “War Hero,” Antibalas dares its audiences to take in more than the music, but the events that inspired them as well. Martin Perna, the band’s founding father, took time after the show in San Francisco to discuss some of the band’s ideas on music, politics and how the two come together on “Security.”
At the time of the interview, which took place backstage at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, band members were wandering in an out of the green room. When the topic of the Antibalas’ politics came up, saxophonist Stewart Bogey commented, thinking the discussion was about the band’s internal workings. “We fight all the time,” he said. “Some people want to do one thing, some people want to do another, and compromise is the only way to go.” Eventually, Perna clarified the group’s explicit international political views:
There have been people running the show with a mass amount of privilege taking us — really everybody — down. So as musicians we try to work these messages into our music. And just like gospel music is married to this idea of religious redemption and salvation and Rastafarian music has certain themes that come up, Afrobeat as our musical architecture is connected to political struggle. And we’re not just talking about political struggle in our context, as a multicultural, multiracial band from Brooklyn, New York. We have songs about patriarchy, about military myths, and we have songs about the need to really overhaul [our] representative democracy [due to its] corruption and the [fact that] the public has been betrayed by both parties.