Interview: THE BRAND NEW LIFE at Roasted Cafe – Macon – 6/7
Booking an afrobeat band is a definite first for those of us at TheBlueIndian.com, but I couldn’t be happier with our first choice; THE BRAND NEW LIFE. The band claims Greensboro, NC as home when they’re not on the road – whether touring as a unit or with collective other projects (Trioscapes, Reptar, Mamadou’s Fantastic Band). This incredibly talented group will be making a special appearance at Roasted Cafe & Lounge in Macon, Georgia (our home) on Friday, June 7th. For those of you in the area, this is the one to be at. For those of you living elsewhere, this is the band to follow. I was fortunate enough to get to chat with a few of the guys in the band about a number of things – including why they’re one of Africa’s “most hated” bands. Enjoy.
What prompted you all to initially get into the afrobeat style of music? I could be wrong but I don’t think they’re are a lot of teenagers that delve into to Fela Kuti’s work and decide they want to start a band? (Perhaps a better way to ask this questions is “at what point did you realize this was the direction your music was going in?”
Daniel (drums): In the very beginning, different world music traditions influenced our sound and songwriting, but it wasn’t specifically Nigerian Afrobeat at that time. Our drummers have studied drumming traditions from West Africa, Uruguay and Cuba extensively. Especially the Senegalese tama/sabar tradition while Mamadou was with us for two years. I think Fela’s influence became stronger as we sort of found a niche in the Afrobeat scene, getting paired up with groups like Egypt 80, Antibalas, Emefe, Funk Ark, etc. Although we don’t approach Afrobeat in a traditional sense, performing with those groups has definitely influenced us to explore Afrobeat more and more and use elements of the music in our songwriting.
Walter (tenor sax): We didn’t start the band as an afrobeat band. We didn’t even really know we were starting a band. In the beginning, each song had a genre of its own jazz, funk, fusion, afrobeat, rock… I think we leaned towards afrobeat because a lot of our favorite bands were. We can hardly consider our selfs to this day to be an Afrobeat band because we don’t play it traditionally. We use the afrobeat style for writing each part but we use lots of odd time signatures and blend rock n’ roll equally into every song.
Seth (bass): Explorations in rhythm certainly got us into the music of Fela Kuti and most music for that matter. When we first started playing together, I’m don’t think I had heard of Fela. Each of us in our own have always been musical sponges. Checking out rock, jazz, classical, americana, afrobeat, you name it. For me, I first related to the music of West Africa through American jazz music. The concept of swing in that music goes back to West African roots and the juxtaposition 2 against 3 or, polyrhythms. My first exposure to real exposure to Fela’s music was seeing the show off broadway with Antibalas as the band. To hear the music and the political struggles Fela and his followers experience in their pursuit of freedom in Nigeria struck a chord that people the world over can relate to. You can literally hear it in the music, making its meaning that much deeper. Our music now follows the hard groove parameters of Fela’s music, but certainly burns its own path in the world of dance music, falling outside the tradition of afrobeat. Listeners will be delighted to hear many other influences in there too. We can rock out with the best of them.
Somewhat cliched question, but has the band actually done any international touring – namely throughout Africa?
Walter: We have played every country in Africa. They hate us over there.
Seth: We have not toured Africa. I have visited Morocco, separated by the desert from West Africa. The experience was truly eye opening. We would love to tour in Senegal, where out former percussionist, Mamadou, hails from.
I would assume that you all enjoy traditional African meals, or have at least explored them. Anything in particular you’d list as a favorite or something we should try if we ever have the chance?
Daniel: Thiebou dienne (or Ceebu Jen) is my favorite Senegalese dish… which basically means ‘rice and fish.’ But it’s much more than just that! Maafe and Yassa are also amazing.
Seth: Mafe from Senegal is the jam. I made it last week. Fry up onions and garlic in oil. Flash fry some fish in there. Throw that in a one pot. Spice it up. Add boiling water and any vegetables you want. After that, add a jar of peanut butter (infused with coconut oil if you can get it) and serve it over rice with hot sauce. A great way to impress a date.
I know this won’t be Walter’s first time in Macon, since Trioscapes has been here a few times, but what about the rest of the band?
Daniel: I know that Sean played Macon’s Bragg Jam with The Afromotive a few years back. This will probably be the first time for the rest of us.
Seth: My first time to Macon. And excited about it! Our drummer Daniel and I grew up on the Allmans! Growing up, both of our dads played them all the time. In fact, Derek Trucks (I know he’s from Jacksonville) turned me on the music of John Coltrane and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, two major influences in the band.
“Gigs/$$$” is the newest single and what an adventure it is! I love it. Making another assumption here, but can a new full-length be expected in the next few months?
Seth: Adventure! Yes! We are working on a studio release that will certainly surprise listeners in its freshness and its diversity.