Here Lies Man and the loud, fuzzy marriage of heavy rock and Afrobeat.
Your music is described as Black Sabbath meets Afrobeat. Can you first describe your connections to the African sound and how you got into playing that style?
I was born into a musical family; my father owned a Latin music record label and my mother was a DJ on Spanish language radio in NYC. I was exposed to Afro-Cuban and Afro-Diasporic music from an early age.
It wasn't until my twenties that I fell in love with the music of Fela Kuti. The first time I heard it, it sounded so familiar to me; I was hooked from that point on.
Then I had the good fortune of joining Antibalas in 2003. It was the experience of playing with the band that allowed to me to find my musical voice. It wasn’t long after joining that I started experimenting with recontextualizing Afrobeat to create new variants in that tradition.
How are the heavy rock and Afrobeat genres so beautifully harmonious as heard on Here Lies Man?
Afrobeat music is driven by a series of musical figures in repetition and in conversation with each other, ordered by the clave. Riff-driven, heavy rock music shares these principles although not necessarily grounded in the clave. That being said, what I’m exploring originates in West African Funk and Afrobeat with a touch more Blues and a heavy rock aesthetic.
How did the band form? How was the style developed?
The thought occurred to me when I was recording the Antibalas album, Security, in 2005. I was learning the parts to a Fela Kuti song and it struck me.
If you listen to Fela's "Yellow Fever" the tenor guitar part is both melodic and rhythmic. To me, Fela's guitar riff sounds like a clave-based metal riff. I just imagined it with fuzz and being played with more abandon. The same thing applies to the main melody of the song. It’s super heavy.
I knew at that point that I wanted to start a project that explored this connection.
Can you give some insight into the captivating and powerful album art?
The label found the work of the photographer, Edward Echwalu. The image was so striking, and eerie, that as an album cover, it forces you to wonder what the music must sound like.
How is Here Lies Man different from your other project Antibalas? What does Here Lies Man accomplish for you as a writer and musician that's separate from Antibalas?
Aesthetically, they’re quite different from each other. HLM is primarily guitar-based with emphasis on riffs grounded in the clave. Antibalas is a much larger ensemble with a full horn section that drives the melodic contentment of the music.
To me, HLM is a distillation of the many layers found in Afrobeat played really loud and fuzzed out. I get the catharsis of moving lots of air with the guitar combined with the rhythmic satisfaction of playing music in clave.
Your drummer is Geoff Mann, legendary jazz musician Herbie Mann's son. How does his drumming style support your vision for Here Lies Man. How was his playing style influenced by his father's career?
Geoff immediately understood what I wanted to achieve and provided the rhythms that each song was asking for. I’d been wanting to start this new project for many years but, it wasn’t I tried out my musical ideas him that it really clicked. Playing with him in Antibalas, I always thoroughly enjoyed his relaxed feel and sense of swing. When he plays the drums, he’s communicating and serving the music. He’s one of the most musical people I’ve ever met. I’m sure there was some influence but it’s obviously in the genes.
The record is out on RidingEasy Records, a label we really admire and are impressed by. How did you get connected with them and what makes it a good fit for the record?
After we finished recording the album, I called my friend, Andrew Mason (aka Monk One), to ask him if he had any recommendations for labels that might be interested. He happened to be friends with Daniel Hall of RidingEasy. The next morning, Monk texted me back that RidingEasy was interested.
When I spoke with Daniel, he told me about his old project, Aphrodisiac Sound System. I remembered the Fela/Queen mashup they had done in the early 2000s that I had really liked because it was such an unexpected juxtaposition.
At that point, it seemed like an uncanny coincidence that he had a rock label and was a fan of afrobeat, so it then made sense to talk about RidingEasy releasing the album.