MR. SOMETHING SOMETHING at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West) as part of the SMALL WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL tonight (Thursday, September 28). $10. 416-536-5439. Rating: NNNNN
The dudes in Mr. Something Something ain't your ordinary Felas.
Acclaimed packs like Antibalas and Afrodizz have emulated Nigerian Afrobeat originator Fela Anikulapo Kuti's energy and eardrum-thawing 70s analog aesthetics to a tee, as Mr. SS vocalist Johan Hultqvist agrees.
But the two-year-old Toronto-based outfit founded by percussionist Larry Graves and tenor saxophonist John MacLean is doing revolutionary things with the genre, both compositionally and philosophically.
"Only a few tempos recur on the Fela records, and they're also used by Antibalas. They're beautiful tempos," says Hultqvist over the phone from his crib. "They sit just right, but it gets just a little monotonous after a while. You feel like, 'Okay, we've been here now.'
"There's a lot more variation in our stuff."
Nationwide, reviews of Mr. Something Something's 05 independent album, The Edge, concurred.
Furthermore, says Hultqvist, because of his non-Nigerian origins, his vocal stylings are closer to the likes of Dylan, Cohen and the pop canon -- it's blue-eyed Afrobeat.
But most notably, they've applied the socio-political passion of Fela Kuti's 70s soul outcry to ecological issues -- something very relevant for an audience living with increasingly inconvenient truths.
Their strong environmental streak was born when they noticed the nasty trash piling up on their first cross-Canada tour.
"Our van would fill up with garbage on those endless drives around Lake Superior or across the prairies," Hultqvist recounts. "It came to a point where it was disgusting to see how much garbage we were generating as a six-piece band. This environmental awareness grew and grew."
Next tour, they brought along travel mugs and reusable bottles and avoided fast food chains and their wicked-excessive packaging. They traded in their brand new tour van for a biodiesel-waste-run bus after seeing one at a BC festival.
"We all got really gung-ho and decided to find a diesel bus we could convert to run on veggie oils."
Their eco-tastic mentality soon carried over to their actual gigs. They've played at communal co-housing projects, renewable-powered farms and sustainability learning centres.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the environmentally conscious band rocked the first annual Harvest Fest and Sustainability Day at Plan B, an organic farm in Flamborough, Ontario. Hultqvist organized the event, which also featured lectures and workshops emphasizing the connection of happiness to sustainablility.
Despite all this green consciousness, don't think that Mr. Something Something have lost sight of one of Afrobeat's most important goals: making your ass move. Sounds like they've generated one of the most uninhibited fan bases in the city.
"Toronto has -- at least, used to have -- a reputation for being a really tough live music city. People would be standing there with their arms crossed, giving the impression that they'd seen it all.
"I've seen that at other people's shows, but we haven't experienced it at all."