Photo: Kory Thibeault
Last weekend, Brooklyn’s mighty post-afrobeat troupe Antibalas stormed into Northern California in continuing celebration of their 20th anniversary, delivering phenomenal shows to sold-out audiences in San Francisco and Oakland, before a Sunday night throwdown in Santa Cruz. Originally a traditional afrobeat orchestra, Antibalas has blossomed into a bouquet of technicolor styles over two decades, many of which were on display on Saturday night at the New Parish in Oakland.
Antibalas has always been steadfast in their unison, a core tenet of the afrobeat genre. Sonically, they move as one. The band has fully rebounded into some of the finest form of their career, a phoenix of sorts rising from the ashes of near-bankruptcy in 2012. In 2017, they stormed back into the cultural zeitgeist, releasing the tremendous call-to-arms/return-to-form Where The Gods Are In Peace via Daptone Records. For these Cali anniversary shows, the group was lead into proverbial battle, as always, by founder/saxophonist Martin Perna and vocalist/keyboardist Duke Amayo. This pair continued their storied tradition at the helm, delivering a rabid Oakland massive to ecstatic states with a whirlwind ninety-minute tour-de-force.
It was wonderful to see guitarist Marcos Garcia (Chico Mann)—a longtime Brooklyn-based band member who relocated to Los Angeles a few years back and doesn’t play with them regularly anymore—back onstage with Antibalas in Oakland. Recently, Garcia has been immersed in his own Here Lies Mann project, which is another Antibalas-affiliated effort. Garcia’s fingerprints are, however, all over Where The Gods Are In Peace, as Perna credits Garcia with the modern sonic thump that informs their most recent LP. Another impressive element of the band was drummer Kevin Raszcka, who has really upped the ante when it comes to Antibalas riddims. He drove the tantric train with a perfect blend of meditation and groove, propelling the rhythmic energy into the stratosphere all night.
Coming out of the gates with newer material like “Tombstone” and “Hook & Crook” introduced the East Bay to a more dynamic sound, less traditional to afrobeat and more contemporary in approach—but these tracks are still of the Antibalas bloodline. The swollen ensemble reached back for classics like “Dirty Money” from 2012’s self titled LP, “Sister” from 2004’s Who is America? and 2002 deep cut “Nyash.” A young woman—a child, really—moved and grooved alongside Amayo at the front of the stage, shining with a gleam in her eye and some liberating dance moves. The musicians and audience seemed to feed off her energy and childlike glee.
The band finished the main part of their set with another recent jam, “Gold Rush”, which saw the players really cut loose, passing the jam around the stage. After Perna shouted out Permaculture Action Network and expressed support for the striking Oakland teachers, he thanked the audience and introduced the current iteration of Antibalas. The contingent returned to the stage for a titanic take on a timeless encore, “V.I.P.”, a rollicking number dear in the hearts of many fans from yesteryear, today, and mañana.
Antibalas was augmented by the tenor-sax wizardry of Cocheema Gastellum, he of Robert Walter’s 20th Congress and Dap-Kings fame. Gastellum was joined by Toubab Krewe bassist Justin Kimmell (who also pulled double duty with Antibalas) and a small, sublime band for a fifty-minute opening set. Cheme unveiled a series of numbers from his just-released solo LP, All My Relations, also released on Daptone Records.
We caught up with Ryan Rising of Permaculture Action Network after the show as he, Perna and Amayo were building backstage and making more plans for the future. Rising had this to say about Permaculture Action Network and Antibalas budding collaborations:
Setlist: Antibalas | New Parish | Oakland, CA | 2/23/19
Tombstown, Hook & Crook, Dirty Money, Sister, Nyash, Fight Am Finish, Gold Rush
Vocals and Keys: Duke Amayo
Trumpet: Jackie Coleman
Trombone: Aaron Johnson
Bari Sax: Martin Perna
Tenor Sax: Cochemea Gastelum
Bass: Justin Kimmel
Guitar: Timothy Allen/ Marcos Garcia
Drums: Kevin Razcka
Congas: Reinaldo DeJesus
Shekere: Marcus Farrar