In the early 2000’s, there was a revival of the music pioneered in the 70’s by Nigerian musician and band leader Fela Kuti. Some bands on the forefront of this Afrobeat revival were Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Nomo, Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra, The Budos Band, and several others. Although it’s had a pretty good run, I think it’s fair to say that it’s popularity has faded somewhat in recent years. I’m reluctant to use the word “fad” due to it’s potential negative connotation, but when something like this comes out of the woodwork to become fairly popular and then fades away almost as quickly as it rose, that is the word that comes to mind. I’ve actually spoken with a friend who is (was?) somewhat of a part-time member of a popular and successful Afrobeat band that told me of the difficulty in finding gigs, not just in the US but globally, as compared to 10 years ago. With that being said, the music is fantastic and there are plenty of Afrobeat bands who are still out there killin’ it night after night, as is the case with Hard Proof.
The 10 piece ensemble from Austin, TX came to Pittsburgh last night to play at the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville. Hard Proof‘s take on the genre lies on the funkier and dancier side of the Afrobeat/African Funk world, similar to New York City’s Budos Band. Their horn-heavy, instrumental, dance floor grooves are exactly what I’m looking for at a show like this and, therefore, I dug Hard Proof quite a bit. Their energy was great, but not artificial or over the top. The rhythm section was solid and deep. And the solos ripped. I’m not normally crazy about guitars, but the guitar solos stood out here as something I don’t normally associate with Afrobeat, especially the slide guitar solo early in the set. Having read that their music is inspired by African music other that just Nigerian and West African Afrobeat, I had hoped to hear a song by Ethiopian vibraphonist, Mulatu Astatke and Hard Proof did not disappoint.
The crowd at this show was small, like 15-20 people small. I’m not sure if that is a result of the aforementioned decline in popularity in Afrobeat of late or the fact that the show took place on a Sunday night in Pittsburgh. But it was probably more the latter. I’m sure the local promoter of this show must have provided some sort of a verbal disclaimer warning these guys that Sunday night is not the best night of the week to playing a show in Pittsburgh. But it’s unfortunate that more people didn’t show up to see these guys. I had to leave before this was over but I’d always rather go to a show and leave early then to not go at all.
Zambian musician and current Pittsburgh resident, Mathew Tembo, opened up the show with a small group that included tenor sax, drums, and bassist Bob Lampenfield, whom I’ve seen in local bands like Cultivator and Man In The Street. They played upbeat reggae-infused Zambian music that featured Tembo primarily on a silimba, which is a Zambian marimba.