AFRODIZZ at Supermarket (268 Augusta), Friday (June 17). $8-$10. 416-840-0501. Rating: NNNNN
If you've been listing all the ways eight-piece Montreal Afrobeat orchestra Afrodizz is different from Jessica Simpson, here's another: they don't pray before their shows. In fact, there are no backstage traditions at all. According to jazz guitar-picker and troupe founder Gabriel Aldama, all spirited chants and rallying cries are strictly reserved for their audience.
"I guess the ritual is just that when we play we scream," the Fela Kuti aficionado tells me from his pad in downtown M-dot. "When someone's playing, sometimes we scream about it - you know, 'Come on! Louder! Louder!' Stuff like this."
But it wouldn't be a true Afrobeat show without that kind of energy. What's unique about Afrodizz is the way they've tweaked the original formulas and styles of the infectiously rowdy Nigerian funk movement with jazz influences and more.
As anyone who's been given a full eardrum massage by a 17-minute Kuti jam-out will concur, Afrobeat generally maintains a constant rhythm, metre and force. Afrodizz does sumpin' new.
"We try to play with it," says Aldama. "The big difference between us and the Afrobeat, like Fela Kuti or Antibalas or Tony Allen, is that we're going more on the power of the sound - sometimes we play very loud and sometimes we play very softly - so we're really playing with the strength and colour of the music."
These are elements they'll continue to toy with as they gear up to slam the studio with their new compositions and the lyrics they've been working on while touring. But perhaps most radically, they're working on getting their lengthier tracks to shorter lengths and tighter structures to win them more airplay. You can hear the results on their most recent release, the blissfully bounced-out Kif Kif (Do Right!).
"Next time it's probably gonna be a bit less long songs like basic Afrobeat. It'll be a large touch of Afrobeat, but the songs will be shorter, and we're gonna do more in a radiophonic way."
Ah, but what of the purists? Is Aldama not worried about the potential fallout from people who like it raw? He cites the Roots as an example of a band that stays rugged while still connecting with a strong fan base.
"We want to be maybe a bit more raw, a bit more dirty. We want to go a more modern way, but we want to keep true to funk and Afrobeat. But I don't think people can think that we are going to the pop side, because it's not what we want to do," he says. "We want to do something just a bit more accessible for the radio."
Plus, any constraints put on their riddims' freedom will be offset by an even more cracked-out live bash.
"We're going to improvise a lot on our songs every time we play, so it's going to be a more different album as well as show."
"And for sure, like I said to you, in show Afrodizz is always, always party time."