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Published: 2010/08/30
by Brian Robbins

Who Is This America?


Q: What is Antibalas’ Who Is This America?

A: Social commentary that you can shake your butt to – no, wait: that you have to shake your butt to. You just can’t help it.

First released in 2004 as Dubya and the gang went to the mattresses in an effort to keep their grip on the White House, Who Is This America? brilliantly combined Afrobeat polyrhythms with the kind of locked-in-and-grooving funk that would make ol’ James Brown and the J.B.’s proud. Layered atop the infectious beats were lyrics that pointed fingers, named names, and – yes – literally asked “Who is this America dem speak of today?”

While a 6-year cycle might seem relatively short for a reissue, Who Is This America? is worthy of the effort for a number of reasons. First, it truly is an amazing audio document of musical soul-melding (by a multiracial band who prove many of their points simply by existing) that many may have missed on the first time around; secondly, there is some bonus music to be had (the previously unreleased “Money Talks”); and thirdly – and sadly, the most important point of all – though there is a very different leader in the White House these days, the fundamental problems that Antibalas addressed in 2004 continue to run rampant in our country. The words still apply; the beat drives them home.

Speaking of the beat, that is exactly what Antibalas’ music is all about. The pulse of the band comes from a multi-member percussion core who weave intricate rhythms without ever sounding cluttered, jumbled, or overwhelming. For a large beast (a 14-piece lineup with help from an additional 10 friends, according to the album credits), this critter is light on its feet.

Antibalas knows how to grab your attention quickly, but they are also masters of the slow burn, kneading and shaping and reshaping a groove to the point where you can’t imagine what the world was like without it. The jams (of which there are plenty, including the epic 19-minute-plus “Sister”) are tight without ever losing their organic feel. “Elephant” moves with a slow-but-cool sway that lives up to its name, while the title track shakes and shimmies to a spiraling vibe while saying its piece. The aforementioned bonus cut “Money Talks” finds the band huddled around a fiercely-percussive piano epicenter. And moments like the courtroom scene in “Indictment” (played out over a tension-filled idling funk riff) or the wild-eyed consumerism of “Big Man” would almost be funny if they didn’t ring so true.

The music on Who Is This America? deserves to be heard for a long, long time. The fact that the album’s social commentary is still relevant is sobering, however.

Perhaps some day there’ll be reason to just dance.

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