CHOPTEETH AFROFUNK BIG BAND-BONE READER.
Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band-Bone Reader.
Ten years after the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band were founded in Washington DC in 2007, the twelve piece, award-winning, Afrofunk orchestra return with their eagerly anticipated third album Bone Reader. It’s the first album the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have released since Chopteeth Live in February 2010. Since then, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have performed all over America and opened for everyone from Funkadelic and Parliament to Aaron Neville, Konono No. 1 and Gov’t Mule. Night after night the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have been winning friends with their own unique trademark sound, where they fuse the funkiest music West Africa has to offer, with American popular music. This is a potent and heady brew, one that features on Bone Leader, the latest chapter in the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band story.
It’s a band that was essentially born after a terrible tragedy made Robert Fox rethink his priorities in life. At the time, Robert Fox was a labor organiser and he was mourning the death of one of his closest friends after a car accident. He remembers “it was a terrible, terrible thing…I came back from this and thought, ‘Wow, that could have been me!’ It made me assess what’s important in life.”
After much time thinking about what was important in life, and where his life was heading. The two thing that were important to Robert Fox were his family, and his work within the labour movement. However, there was also something that Robert Fox had wanted to do for many years, but had never plucked up the courage to form an Afrofunk band. The death of his friend made him realise that if he didn’t grasp the nettle, and do so he would regret not doing so in later life
Having made the decision, Robert Fox decided to bring to life his dream of playing bass in a band that played like Fela Kuti’s seventies Afrobeat band, and combining this with James Brown’s high energy funk and the Yoruba musical tradition. To do this, needed the right personnel for his new band.
Robert Fox started looking for the musicians that would become the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band. The first to join the new band was guitarist and songwriter Michael Shereikis, whose musical CV included playing in the Central African Republic and on the stages of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. This would stand him in good stead when he became the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band’s musical director.
Having recruited Michael Shereikis, Robert Fox continued his search for the right blend of musicians. Some were recruited after answering small ads, while others heard through the Washington DC musical grapevine that Robert Fox was putting together a new band. Eventually, Robert Fox had recruited the three women and nine men that became the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band.
The twelve band members all came from different very backgrounds, and were a mixture ages and nationalities. Three decades separated the youngest and eldest members who came from far and wide. Some were local musicians from Washington DC, while others came from the Deep South. Other band members came from as far failed as Romania and Kenya. They were part of a rainbow nation of musicians, that became the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band, who would soon, become familiar faces in the Washington DC music scene.
It was a Nigerian businessman that offered the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band. This was the break the nascent band was looking for. More importantly, he introduced the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band to Kenyan singer Anna Mwalagho. She would play an important part in the rise and rise of the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band.
Just a year after the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band was formed in Washington DC, in 2007, the twelve piece band began work on their debut album Chopteeth. It showcased the band’s unique and eclectic sound, which had its roots in Afrobeat, the big-band funk sound invented by Fela Kuti in seventies Nigeria. Afrobeat was a fusion of modern jazz, Yoruba tribal music and funk. The Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band had initially fused this with the Yoruba musical tradition. However, this was only part of the story, as the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band sound that also included salsa, soukous and Balkan-style time signatures. This was all part of a truly eclectic debut album.
When the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band released their debut album Chopteeth in 2008, it was a call for rhythmic regime change. The “Crazy Fools of Afrobeat”combined new and original songs from Ghana, Senegal, Congo, Guinea, and Nigeria on an album that showcased their new and inimitable sound. Chopteeth found favour with critics and the Washington Area Music Association.
At the Washington Area Music Association awards ceremony later in 2008, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band won awards for Debut CD of the Year, Artist of the Year and World Music Group of the Year. This was recognition of how far the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band had come.
Nearly two years after the release of Chopteeth, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band returned with their sophomore album Chopteeth Live in February 2010. It captured the award-winning, twelve piece from Washington DC’s live sound.
They fuse Afrobeat, funk, jazz and soul as they recreate the seventies glory days of African music. In doing so, they pay homage to legendary African musicians like Fela Kuti and Peter King on a vampish take on Freedom Dance. Elsewhere the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band take the listener on journey through Africa, as the play songs from Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal and Congo. This allows the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band to showcase their versatility and talent on an album that was an irresistible reminder of their live sound. So impressed were the Washington Area Music Association that the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band won the World Music CD of the Year in 2010.
Since then, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have spent much of their crisscrossing America, playing prestigious festivals and opening for some of the biggest names in music, including Funkadelic and Parliament to Aaron Neville, Konono No. 1 and Gov’t Mule. The Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have also added to their tally of awards over the past seven years.
By 2016, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band had won thirteen awards at subsequent Washington Area Music Association award ceremonies. The Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have now won Artist of the Year, Debut CD of the Year and have twice won the World Music CD of the Year. However, the all-conquering the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have now won the World Music Group of the Year award for the past nine years. The recent release of Bone Reader should see the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band make that ten in a row, and add to their impressive list of awards.
For Bone Reader, the “Crazy Fools of Afrobeat” have combined new compositions with updates of African dance classics. However, The Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band stay true to the original spirit of these classic songs. With the new songs, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have been inspired by Twi proverbs, Ivorian pop, the death of Freddie Gray and Edward Snowden the former Intelligence Community officer and whistleblower who leaked classified documents. All this influenced the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band as they began work on their much-anticipated third album Bone Reader which is dancefloor friendly and full of social comment.
Cofounder and guitarist Michael Shereikis explains the concept behind Bone Reader: “You’re dancing, so let’s engage on another, more challenging level as well. You may be having a good time, but you’re also hearing and considering an issue that has a resonance for you. That’s how many of us approach songwriting for this band.”
On an album which features seven different vocalists, it’s no surprise that several members of the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band contributed songs to Bone Reader. Cofounder and bassist Robert Fox wrote two Edward Snowden and Rambeau, while other songs were collaborations between several band members.
This included Funtumfunafu, whose roots can be traced to the day percussionist David McDavitt brought in a Ghanaian adinkra, the symbol of a two-headed crocodile into the studio. It provided part of the inspiration for the song. So did the Twi proverbs that Michael Shereikis had researched. He then worked out the horn chart on a piano, and sent them to horn section arranger and trumpet player Cheryl Terwillinger. The result was Funtumfunafu, a beautiful, mid-tempo song that sounds as if it was recorded in the seventies, which was the golden age of African music.
Another song, Warriors, took shape after drummer Mahiri Keita showed the group the powerful balanta rhythm he had learned from his Ghanaian teacher. Mahiri Keita explains more about the song’s background, and how it took shape. “Lanta are warriors from Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, and balanta is a popular dance. But no one’s put it into a contemporary funk context. The breakdown goes with the warrior dance. I wanted to see if the band could play it. And they could! I laid the foundation on the drum, and the band built from there.” They were able to do so when they entered the studio, and an irresistible energetic workout where the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band combine the balanta rhythm with Afrobeat horns and funk. It’s one of ten tracks laid down one Washington DC studio.
In the studio, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band’s sound was much tighter as they fused West African rhythms, funk and hip hop on Bone Reader, which is full of social comment and also, dancefloor friendly.
Opening Bone Reader is Questions Of Our Day where the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band fuse blazing Afrobeat horns, funk and social comment in dancefloor filler designed to make the listener think. So too is Edward Snowden where samples are deployed, including one of the former Intelligence Officers vocal. Meanwhile, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band jam, fusing elements of Afrobeat, funk, blistering jazzy horns and later, a searing rocky guitar. It’s a glorious, thought-provoking musical potpourri.
DC Vote features Head-Roc and initially, sounds as if it’s been inspired by seventies Afrobeat, funk and Blaxploitation soundtracks. Soon, Head-Roc adds an impassioned rap, which adds a new dimension to another song full of social comment. It gives way to Rambeau, a genre-melting jam where the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band are at their tightest as they kick loose and pay homage to Monica Rambeau a Marvel comic character who later, became a leader of the Avengers. Her roots are in the Big Easy, and it’s the music of New Orleans that has influenced the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band on this musical homage the Big Easy’s first female superhero.
From superheroes the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band move on to Cop Show, which straight away, takes the listener back to the seventies. It’s not unlike the funky theme to a Cop Show. That was what the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band thought when they recorded the track. However, they were so worried that they had been influenced by another track that they scoured the internet listening to themes to seventies cop show. By the time they realised that they hadn’t been influenced by another track, Freddy Gray had died in Baltimore. This resulted in Flex Mathews being drafted in to lay down an impassioned rap which is the final piece of this musical jigsaw.
So You Say was written by Justine Miller, and is a song that stands up for those that are defiant and skeptical. It features a vocal that veers between tender and soulful to defiant powerful and sometimes is full of scepticism. Meanwhile, fought horns and washes of Hammond organ join percussion and the rhythm section in powering the arrangement along. In doing so, Justine Miller shows another side to the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band.
Tribulation is soulful Afrobeat with lyrics full of social comment. It gives way to Solomon’s Party which closes Bone Reader, and is another song that shows the soulful side of the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band. They combine their soulfulness with their trademark sound, on what’s a melody and ruminative track, that closes the album on a high.
After a seven-year wait, the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band make a welcome return with their third album Bone Reader. The twelve-piece band from Washington DC is a much tighter band on this carefully crafted album of new songs with updates of African dance classics. They’re part of what’s a career-defining album from the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band.
Bone Reader is a genre-melting album, where the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band fuse Afrobeat, funk, jazz, soul and even the occasional rocky guitar lick. Much of the music on Bone Reader is also dancefloor friendly, but is also full of social comment. The Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band certainly don’t shy away from tackling important issues on Bone Reader, and set out to record an album that was designed to make the listener think.
This isn’t always easy, but fortunately the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have a number of talented songwriters that contribute to the new songs on Bone Reader. They tackle various social problems and deal with recent injustices. These songs are also designed to encourage the listener to think about what’s going on in the world around them, ranging from politics to recent injustices. The lyrics to these songs are brought to life by the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band’s seven vocalists, whose vocals are impassioned and full of emotion. Each of the seven vocalists play their part in the sound and success of Bone Reader.
The Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have succeed in what they set out to do when they began work on Bone Reader, and have created a dancefloor friendly album that will make the listener think. It can’t have been easy, but the twelve members of the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band have succeeded in doing so on Bone Reader, which has been worth the seven-year wait,
Bone Reader showcases the multitalented and versatile Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band who are a much tighter and even better band than they were when they released Chopteeth Live in 2010. They reach new heights on Bone Reader, which is a cerebral, thought-provoking and dancefloor friendly album from the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band which is sure to add to the Washington DC band’s impressive array of awards.
Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band-Bone Reader.
- Posted in: Afrobeat ♦ Jazz ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Anna Mwalagho, Bone Reader, Cheryl Terwillinger, Chopteeth, Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band, Chopteeth Live, David McDavitt, Justine Miller, Mahiri Keita, Michael Shereikis, Robert Fox