Barcelona’s Alma Afrobeat Ensemble keep the spirit of Afrobeat going strong | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Barcelona’s Alma Afrobeat Ensemble keep the spirit of Afrobeat going strong

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For the fourth year in a row, Barcelona-based guitarist Aaron Feder brings his Alma Afrobeat Ensemble on a U.S. tour. The group, which Feder founded in Champaign-Urbana in 2003, consists of members from several nations, and as is customary when they travel in the States, they’re joined by their American touring musicians—Matthew Engel on keys and backing vocals, Cody Jensen on percussion, Joshua Thomson on alto sax, Eddie Quiroga on trombone, and Dr. Adrian Barnett on tenor sax. This year’s configuration also features lead vocalist Marga Mbande, a powerful, velvet-voiced singer who was born in Barcelona to parents from the Kombe people of Equatorial Guinea; she sings in English, Spanish, Catalán, and Kombe. Alma Afrobeat’s current tour showcases material from their fourth studio album, the recent Monkey See, Monkey Do (Slow Walk), whose grooves build upon the pioneering sounds of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen and take them in surprising, eclectic directions. They occasionally add touches of hip-hop, blues, and reggae as well as instruments not typically used in Afrobeat, including bassoon, Dobro, and banjo. Despite these stylistic departures, Monkey See, Monkey Do hews to Afrobeat’s foundations in its response to the need for social change: in a 2018 conversation with the website Nuvo, Feder explained that the album’s title and many of its tunes refer to the risks of blindly following leaders rather than one’s own conscience. And onstage Alma Afrobeat Ensemble stay true to another Afrobeat principle: their heavily horn- and percussion-driven tunes keep everyone busting out their best moves on the dance floor.   v

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