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Music Review: Akoya Afrobeat – President Dey Pass

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Ever avoid a whole genre of music because the seeming vastness was very intimidating? I used to feel that way about classical music. So many composers/orchestras/conductors to choose from. To the uninitiated, it's tough to take that first step. Once I got over that fear of making a mistake (which now makes no sense to me), I just dove right in. Sure, I picked up a few clunkers where the music did almost nothing for me. Those were balanced by the records that blew me away. Mozart's Requiem comes to mind.

I felt the same way about pop music from Africa. Like the continent itself, there was just so much to investigate. For a long time I bought nothing, fearing the "wrong" selection.

All of that changed when I heard King Sunny Ade on the radio. Ade and his infectious brand of Nigerian "JuJu" music just bowled me over. After that, I was hooked. Enter Ali Farka Tourè and Fela Kuti. Man, my walls just pulsed with this stuff. It felt like I'd just discovered a whole new musical world (I had!), one where infectious grooves and sophisticated rhythms played a much more prominent role in support of the structure and melody — at least when compared to most modern Western pop music.

On P.D.P. (President Dey Pass), Akoya Afrobeat combines the rhythms of the best James Brown with a lot of down & dirty Afro-centric funk and soul. With longtime Fela Kuti Egypt 80 singer Kaleta, drums and percussion, a small army of guitars, and a huge horn section, this is an Afro-pop dance machine to be reckoned with.

High points? It's tough to know where to start. There's the 12-minute ecstatic workout of "B.F.B.F " that begins with interlocked guitar figures and percussion before the horn section explodes to life. "Jè Jè L'Aiyé" sways back and forth between an ongoing guitar/horn conversation (with guest appearance by Jamaican saxophonist Cedric "Im" Brooks) to Keleta's vocals engaging in some beautiful call & response with the backing chorus. The closing "Wahala" features some strutting baritone sax blasts before the funk slow burn takes off.

My absolute favor track from P.D.P is "Fela Dey." At over 13 minutes, it's an Afro-pop/funk/soul raveup that I'd be willing to bet lights a fire on the dance floor. Kicking off with some scratchy, "Sex Machine"-ish guitar and then taken over by that massive horn section, this is exactly the kind of song that turned me on to this (very expansive) genre in the first place. Later on, Keleta and the backing vocalists put the song over the top. This record is so much fun, I'm beginning to think it might not be legal!

If you own no Afro-pop records, P.D.P. is a great place to start. You will not be making a mistake. There's a sweaty joy that flies from each song. Let's face it, what's more fun than sweaty joy?

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About Mark Saleski

  • Pico

    P.D.P. is an instant party on a disc. Although it’s hard to decide, I think I like “Fela Dey” the best, too. That whole record is a lot of fun without making any concessions.

    Been listening to Ryan Blotnick’s record and it’s hard to believe that’s the same guy who is part of that “army of guitars” on Akoya Afrobeat. Totally different, but equally good.

  • Mark Saleski

    instant party….that’s it!

    and yeah…it makes sense for Blotnick if you know that he used to play in Rustic Overtones.