Antibalas established themselves in the late 1990s as a burning, tough, horn, bass and drum driven Afrobeat ensemble cut from the Fela Kuti mold, who were politically savvy and socially conscious. Their live shows have been incendiary events where rhythm and perspiration from completely crazy, booty-shaking audience members shared something deeper and wider than the music itself. Security is Antibalas' fourth album. It was co-produced by the band with John McEntire from Tortoise (he also mixed the set). While opening horn lines let the listener know immediately that this is Antibalas, virtually everything else is different. It's not like the Afrobeat is gone, but it's been stretched to the breaking point to include organic funk, electronic sounds, hip-hop rhythms, and a wicked backbeat on some tracks that could whip out the kinks in a tight spine better than a chiropractor. One has to wonder, though, if the appearance and acclaim of NOMO a couple of years back -- an Ann Arbor, MI band that has been deeply influenced by Afrobeat yet which also includes elements of free jazz, funk, soul and deep dread reggae in their mix -- provided any sort of inspiration to walk out the Afrobeat to include other musics in a tight, nearly cinematic in-your-face mix. Warren Defever, NOMO's producer, is also an experimental rocker. But no matter.
What's here accounts for the finest Antibalas moment yet. The grooves on every track burn -- check the cuts written byStuart Bogie like "Beaten Metal," which opens the set. There are literally bits and pieces of metal being played in counterpoint rhythms to the jacked trap kit and other drums. They are layered right onto the top of the dense mix, playing around and through the horn charts. Bogie also wrote the moody funk cut "I.C.E.," where a B-3 chills the tune into a slightly eerie vibe, while McEntire contributes a smoking little hammered dulcimer vamp amid various rhythm instruments. When the horns and guitar enter, the horns play counter; these instruments all but cover the organ and synth and dig deep into the chart. The acoustic bassline that creates a separate groove and duos with the keyboard and hand percussion takes the whole thing into another world. But the real magic happens on the bridge where the entire track falls away and is rebuilt as something else. These are simply two of the nearly endless surprises onSecurity. Another is the Afrobeat cum reggae slip and slur in "Sanctuary" with killer vocals by conquero Duke Amayo. The following cut is a nocturnal soul-exotica tune with beautiful vocals by the band and lead singer/guitarist Marcos Garcia. Security is so radically different from its predecessors, it may be initially off-putting to some listeners, but this is guaranteed to melt away by the second track: the fat grooves are so seductive and all encompassing. This music jams but Antibalas is not a jam band. There isn't a weak moment here as everything is organized, beautifully arranged, and never feels pushed or forced. Security is so fine, it ups the ante for anyone -- in America, anyway -- who claims they play "world" music. This one will be burning up dancefloors at parties all year long. In this country there has never been a better argument for rhythm fused with politics.