The Afromotive with Dubconscious, The Orange Peel, Asheville, NC- 12/1
Asheville’s hometown Afrobeat heroes The Afromotive held a party on Saturday, December 1st at the Orange Peel. They were releasing their new album Scare Tactics to the world. They were coming home to show some love to their friends and fans back home after more than six months away of heavy touring. And they were showing everyone just how productive they have been the last couple of months.
The show started with the reggae sextet Dubconscious. These guys call Athens home, but should probably add Asheville to their list of residences. The town simply loves them. When they took the stage at 9 pm, they had a crowd waiting. And with good reason, as they get the crowd moving and they do it with a message. They are seasoned road warriors singing about traveling sustainably and living as if amongst family wherever the road may take them. In the days of internet and drive through coffee shops, these are messages that need to be heard.
Dubconscious vocalist Adrian Zelski is an iconoclast for change, always preaching and pushing for a better way. And if Solomon Wright on bass and Matt Woolley on drums do not set you in motion, nothing will. With a sound comfortably sculpted somewhere between Toots and the Maytals and Sound Tribe Sector Nine, these guys have a lot of room. Their sound keeps on morphing, show to show, even song to song. Electronica backbeats occasionally sneak their way tastefully into the band’s set, but they have an otherwise organic sound. Replete with ample vocals, solid percussion, schooled lead guitar, keys and trombone, these guys play from the heart and it is clear that Asheville approves.
After a short set break, "Funky Town" came over the PA and people started to look around. Suddenly from back stage came a girl in an afro wig carrying a boom box. She was followed by six additional girls in fluorescent wigs of varying shades, wearing go-go boots and matching overcoats. The music shifted into "We’ve Got the Beat" and the overcoats started coming off. Sexy things in fishnet stockings and matching tops did a routine for us that looked like it had been choreographed on the set of Pulp Fiction. It was more than comfortable at this party though. They were the Go-Go Guerillas and they were a sight to see.
As they filed off of the stage, Adama Dembele emerged from behind the curtain wearing West African garb and playing a Djembe. Adama is a 33rd generation player of the instrument, and just for some perspective, if there was twenty years between the generations, then Adama’s family has been playing the Djembe since around the time Columbus landed in America. He was followed closely by Kevin Meyame who traded off drum solos with Adama, like him, a native of Western Africa. They went back and forth before coming together and inviting the rest of their large and impressive band to finally join in on the party. There are ten members in The Afromotive. They have a rhythm section that is rivaled by few for size and composure. One drummer, three percussionists, a keyboard player, a bassist and a guitarist hold the groove while their three horn players move their way around their ocean of sound.
The Afromotive is less a band than a cultural experience. It is a swirling, rolling body of water, washing over the crowds. It is a history lesson and a call to arms. It is a recognition that another world exists far beyond our own borders and a reminder that good music happens all around the world. Meyame as a front man is a sight to be seen. Scantily clad in homemade African clothing he writhes on stage like an African Jim Morrison. When he is not playing the djembe or the congas, he is moving around, singing, telling stories and generally creating excitement as he runs back and forth and calls on the audience to respond to his endless calls.
In another time Meyame might have been a shaman or a storyteller. He talks of universal messages and his call to arms is always one for peace. He dances and he sings and he moves faster than most in the audience can even begin to follow. He is fluent in French, English and several Western African dialects and throughout the night he utilizes all of them. He sings and the horns respond to his calls. He talks to his audience constantly, keeping them involved in every aspect of the evening. And he has the funkiest Afrobeat soundtrack since Fela Kuti to accompany him on his journey.
All of the players in the band are jazz musicians and all of them are masters on their instrument. With influences and backgrounds ranging from classical to funk and electronic to reggae, the band never misses a beat. At times, the audience has to choose a player to dance with as the band has numerous conflicting rhythms going on simultaneously. They are a rolling sea, hinting at a storm but guaranteeing excitement and adventure for all who choose to sail upon it.
The band had Scare Tactics producer, Jacob Keller, with them on stage playing guitar on all but a few tracks. He and the newest permanent addition to the band, guitarist Jordan Klemons, played off each other spectacularly. One comped chords while the other played lines. One played high while the other played low. Both had the bigger sound in mind as they went along. Drummer Curtis Wingfield and percussionist/shekere player Justin Hunnicutt are the heart of the band. Never deviating from the syncopated Afrobeat rhythm, they pushed the music ever onward. Ryan Reardon on bass and Jesse Howerton on the Rhodes and the Hammond Organ completed the immense rhythm section. Both are studied players of the genre and as a whole the band ebbs and flows around their solid presence. The horn line consists of Tyler Kittle on tenor sax, Ryan Knowles on bari and alto sax and Sean Smith on trumpet. All are seasoned jazz soloists and they are the spice to the vast and tasty stew that is The Afromotive.
The place was still alive as last call came and went, as no one wanted to leave this particular party.