Kokolo AFROBEAT ORCHESTRA at Supermarket (268 Augusta), Friday (January 20), 10 pm. $8. 416-840-0501. Rating: NNNNN
The heart of Manhattan's Chinatown isn't where you'd expect to hear the bubbling bump of Afrobeat, certainly not being played by a bunch of reformed New York punk, jazz and funk musicians who look like they've just come off a midtown squash court.
But it's precisely Kokolo's refusal to present themselves as anything but who they are that gives hardcore-schooled guitarist Ray Lugo and his hard-charging crew a sense of authenticity amongst the global horde of next-generation Afrobeat orchestras building on Fela Kuti's explosive sound far from its Nigerian epicentre.
"I'd feel really uncomfortable going onstage wearing a dashiki to play this music," explains Lugo from his New York pad. "There's an important cultural significance to those garments that's just not part of my experience, so it wouldn't be appropriate. Similarly, it's important that the music we play reflect who we are as people.
"I mean, you need to have an appreciation for music of West Africa and all the musicians like Fela Kuti and Geraldo Pino who contributed so much to the development of Afrobeat, but there's a difference between respect and emulation, at least for me."
While Afrobeat admittedly isn't the trendy sound it once was five or six years back, when Universal was reissuing Fela Kuti's classic Afrika 70 recordings, Kokolo has been working to keep the sound in the clubs by bringing in some funk moves and salsa heat.
And with the help of their well-connected Freestyle label boss, UK DJ Adrian Gibson, Kokolo are also waging an aggressive remix campaign.
"We're a 100 per cent live band, and I think a lot of the work we've done in 2005 cemented our reputation as a live entity. So when the remix idea came up, I was all for it.
"The process is really exciting. You give your finished canvas to a different artist - maybe someone you've never met. They manipulate the image as they see fit, and when it comes back, it's like, 'Wow, I never noticed that was there' or 'I didn't think that was possible. '"
Stockholm's BeatFanatic gives Kokolo's Mama Don't Want No Gun joint a sweet tweak (on Nascente's swank three-CD set), Faze Action have done a bang-up job with Mister Sinister (on Slip 'n' Slide's Afrique C'est Chic 3), and so have Word of Mouth on their Jamayaka-label split single with Roy Davis Jr. Kokolo's frequent appearances on compilations are also helping to spread the message in places they've never played.
"Along with maintaining an experimental approach to this music and keeping an open mind to new sounds and different ideas, I'm keen on expanding our reach internationally.
"Everywhere we play I can see that this music really connects with people, but why should we confine ourselves to North America and Europe when we could be connecting with people in Brazil, India and Sri Lanka, too."