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Winners Never Quit
Formed by Nigerian bandleader Foly Kolade in 2012, Asiko Afrobeat Ensemble is the remounted Toronto incarnation of a project Kolade led while living in NYC in the mid-2000s. The 13 members play horns, sax, keys, bass, guitars, drums, percussion and backup vocals, while Kolade, who arrived in Toronto in 2011 after a few years back home in Nigeria, handles lead vocals and, live, the double-headed talking drum (played by Michael Adeoba on this record).
While Asiko’s contemporary Afrobeat sound references fundamental influences like Fela Kuti and high-life guru King Sunny Ade, these eight tunes highlight Afrobeat grooves enhanced with touches of reggae, hip-hop and funk. It’s music best experienced live – they often play for two hours with not a single cover thrown in – but the album does a good job of capturing that energy.
Lead single Nobody Knows Tomorrow, the most anthemic track, connects many of those disparate influences: Kolade sings in English and Yoruba, raps through a breakdown section and notes the unpredictability of life, while the band adds Caribbean touches to an Afrobeat shuffle. Dumb Intellectuals stitches together a slow groove, some hip-hop flows and evocative accents from the talking drum. Played using a hooked stick and tuning cords to produce tones mimicking speech, it’s one of the oldest storytelling instruments in West Africa. The high-energy Olofofo, a call-and-response dance-floor favourite showcasing the horns and rhythm section, translates successfully from stage to studio.
Kolade’s uplifting messages convey great cultural pride. On African People, he implores, “Don’t abandon your culture… teach your children your language.” The title track espouses perseverance and positivity: “You triumph once, you triumph twice, never give up.” Album closer Elegbede opens unexpectedly with a solo for fujara – a trippy Slovak overtone flute – then leads into a rich African guitar groove and horn-laced downtempo number interspersed with Yoruba song.
Top track: Olofofo
Asiko Afrobeat Ensemble play a release show at Lula Lounge Thursday (June 23). See listing.