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Few bands have been as indebted to a stylistic and philosophical predecessor as Antibalas are to Fela Kuti. Fewer still have been as capable of doing their predecessor justice — after all, this is the band that was recruited to give some sonic verisimilitude to the original productions of the musical Fela!. And in repaying the stylistic debt they’ve owed to the originator of Afrobeat for over a dozen years, the Brooklyn band has spent a handful of albums proving that it’s an art form that can not only survive but thrive, artistically and politically, outside the context of 1970s Nigeria. When they put out Who Is This America? in the midst of 2004’s turmoil, it was a rhetorical question: This was music that knew the country all too well and demanded some sort of acknowledgement that their deepest suspicions were correct.
On surface terms, the self-titled Antibalas could be pegged to some particular agitated movement in current socio-politics, where matters of class struggle and disenfranchisement are played out in movements that ebb, flow, splinter, get pushed to the background, yet never really go away. But for many people, financial exploitation, misguided law enforcement, and unsatisfying materialism aren’t any more prevalent than they were when Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 came out — they’re just more visible to people who wouldn’t worry about it otherwise. Antibalas have used that inroads for a much-needed type of no-expiration-date protest music: They swap out didactic specificity for sneaky allegory, torn-from-the-headlines trendiness for generations of weight, and the catalytic spark of the freshly-minted young radical for the perseverance of the long-struggling citizen.
Behind that voice, however, Antibalas reveal another way to advocate for collective empathy: This is the band at its most forcefully communicative as a unit, playing together with an efficiency that lives and breathes with one-take composure. — Pitchfork