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World Music Features

Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble

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Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble
By Tom Pryor

Published January 7, 2006

Just in case you thought that the Afrobeat revival was on its last legs, New York’s own Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble keeps the spirit of Fela Kuti alive with the release of their debut album, Introducing The Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble (www.akoyamusic.com).

          The two-year-old, 13-piece band boasts a multinational crew that includes members from Panama, Ghana, Benin, South Africa, Japan and the U.S. who came together from a variety of different musical backgrounds to explore the funky, Yoruba-meets-James Brown style that Fela pioneered in the ’70s. “We love African rhythms,” explains bassist Felix Chen. “They make people dance. Long hypnotic grooves with funky melodic horn lines together with a political message.”

Adds co-founder/percussionist Yoshi Kobayashi, “Since we’re all from different countries, we’ve been trying to mix our influences together by using the language of Afrobeat.”

          If all this sounds a bit familiar—multiethnic New York crew gets political and plays Afrobeat—two things distinguish Akoya from Brooklyn’s ever-popular Antibalas: their sound and their living link to Fela’s legendary Egypt 80 band. Says Kobayashi, “We’ve been trying to make our sound as ‘next generation’ Afrobeat.”

          “We feel our sound is a bit more energetic with faster tempos,” elaborates Chen. But their real secret weapon is vocalist Kaleta, who performed and recorded with both Fela and Femi Kuti for over 10 years. Says Chen, “He brings his experience and a touch of authenticity to the band.” Singing in a mixture of Yoruba, pidgin English and various dialects from his native Benin, Kaleta adds real vocal firepower to Akoya’s impressive musicianship.

          On its debut, the band tears through a propulsive set of original, horn-and-percussion-driven compositions that draw as much from jazz, funk and Afro-Cuban sounds as they do on the original Afrobeat template. Live, they’re known to take on the master himself, often incorporating Fela compositions into their scorching sets.

          They’re not afraid to incorporate Fela’s political activism into their music, either. “Our politics are not about separation but unity,” says Chen. ”We believe in rising a

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