Afrodizz playing as part of the DOWNTOWN jazz Festival at Revival (783 College), Tuesday (June 29), 8 pm. $10-$15. 416-870-8000. www.torontojazz.com Rating: NNNNN
Although Fela Kuti always hoped the Afrobeat sound he helped establish would live on after he died, he was counting on his son Femi to carry on his musical legacy. Little did he know that the most exciting work in moving Afrobeat into the 21st century would happen outside Nigeria in places like Brooklyn, Helsinki and even Drummondville, Quebec, where the members of Afrodizz met at college two years ago and began developing their own intriguing Afrobeat hybrid. On their first independently released EP, the eight-piece Afrodizz orchestra led by guitarist Gabriel Aldama demonstrated they had the chops to blast through Fela Kuti anthems like Kalakuta Show, while their fabulous new Kif Kif! (Do Right!) album shows the forward-looking crew impressively building on Fela's Afrobeat foundation by throwing elements of jazz, R&B and dub into the mix.
"Growing up in France, I was exposed to a lot of African music," explains drummer Jean-Philippe Goncalves from Montreal. "But it wasn't until I met Gabriel (Aldama) at school in Drummondville that I heard Fela Kuti.
"It was Gabriel's idea to form a band to play Afrobeat music. In the beginning it seemed very strange. It wasn't like jazz, where you've got a straight 32-bar structure. Afrobeat is all about the groove; there's often just one chord and everybody jams on it. For the first year, we played only Fela and Femi Kuti's songs, to learn the style and to get a feel for the mood of the music. Then we began progressively to add our own ideas."
Like their counterparts in Antibalas who similarly draw inspiration from the work of Fela Kuti, Afrodizz aren't interested in recreating the sound of Afrika 70 as it was. They're using their own accumulated knowledge to push ahead in unexpected directions.
The Fela influence still comes through loud and clear on Kif Kif! - particularly in François Glidden's baritone sax honking and Goncalves's Tony Allen-style drum attack - but onstage, Afrodizz interact more like a democratic jazz combo than a single-minded groove machine. In that sense, Afrodizz are actually better suited to play the Downtown Jazz Festival than might be expected.
"What impressed me the most about Fela Kuti was the energy he brought to the music. Onstage, leading the band, when he wasn't singing or dancing he was blowing extended solos on saxophone. It was really a one-man show with a great band grooving behind him. With Afrodizz, the focus is not only on what the singer is doing - it's a group where every member has an important contribution to make.
"The way Fela played Afrobeat, the energy remains constant. Even when he takes a solo, instead of starting at A and going to B, he stays at A. The way we approach it, the energy rises and falls with each solo and keeps changing as the song develops.
"We're not from Nigeria and we don't belong to the culture that originally produced Afrobeat. We come from the jazz culture, so it's natural for us to work improvisationally, creating solos and building around them."