Proof Positive

Brooklyn's Antibalas resurrects Fela Kuti's Afrobeat sound -- as well as his revolutionary politics

According to Michael E. Veal's biographical study, Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon, Fela took the Yoruba spiritual practice of communicating with the ancestors and politicized it. After his performances at his Afrika Shrine club in Lagos, he would pay homage to an altar erected to his "political spirits" -- Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and Ghanaian Premier Kwame Nkruman. The Afrika Shrine served as a temporarily autonomous zone in a city under martial law, a sanctuary for discontents, dope smokers, students, transients, and even curious Nigerian elites.

There's no doubt the Black President would have endorsed an Afrobeat insurrection in New York City (or, for that matter, in San Francisco, where Antibalas plays two shows this weekend) -- especially given NY Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's prolonged assault on so-called "quality of life" offenses. At some clubs in New York, Antibalas has had to ask audiences to stop dancing or run the risk of breaking archaic cabaret laws that the city suddenly began enforcing when the mayor assumed office in 1993.

"When people come down on dancing, you realize what it really means to dance," C-Perna observes. Indeed, as George Clinton and Attorney General John Ashcroft might agree, putting asses into motion can have dangerous political consequences -- freed minds and deviant behavior among them. C-Perna, whose interest in Yoruba deities and revolutionary dance music dates to his mid-'90s involvement in the Santería-inspired, Latin-ska band King Chango, uses Antibalas' weekly "Africalia" party to mobilize bodies, both kinetically and politically.

Antibalas: An anti-capitalist, pro-voodoo dance band.
Kent Swift
Antibalas: An anti-capitalist, pro-voodoo dance band.


Saturday, Feb. 17, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 552-7788. The group also plays on Sunday, Feb. 18, at 9 p.m. at the Justice League, 628 Divisadero (at Hayes), S.F. Tickets are $10; call 440-0409.

Sample of Antibalas' "El Machete," from the CD Liberation Afro*Beat Vol. 1. Click the "play" icon in the control console below.

<p align="center"> If your browser doesn't display a control console, <a href=""> download the MP3 file</a> to be played by a separate application. </p>

Find more information, or order the CD, at

Elbo Room, 647 Valencia (at 18th Street), S.F.

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"The club's in Lower Manhattan, in a kind of yuppie area, so people who don't normally hang out in that area go down on Friday to see us," he says. "It's a weird vibe because there's always a handful of businessmen who stay past the happy hour, and I'll be talking about how everyone needs to divest from the stock market, and how every dollar you spend is more powerful than a vote because companies are more powerful than politicians now. And there'll be people who probably work for Xerox and Coke in the audience, as well as anarchists and activists."

Unlike Fela's bands, which he hypocritically ruled with an iron fist, Antibalas is a horizontally organized kibbutz, with C-Perna acting as conductor but not bandleader.

"I'd been in Mexico for the last month, and when I got back, the group had taken on a life of its own in my absence, which is really what I had hoped would happen," he says. "I had been the organizer of a lot of things, but with me being away, members had been a lot more active in getting things done. I was overjoyed because that's what a collective is. You can't just say, "All right, we're a collective.' People have to learn it themselves because it's been deprogrammed out of us. We're taught that everything's a hierarchy, wait for instructions from the boss, only do what's expected of you and nothing more.

"It just surprises me now when I'm up on stage, like, "How did this get started?'" he muses. "Why do I feel like I'm playing inside my favorite record with my all-time favorite band?"

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