Alma Afrobeat Ensemble from Barcelona, Spain
Hey Atwoodfest! Are you ready for the top Afrobeat band in Spain to grace the stage in Madison, Wisconsin? Welcome Alma Afrobeat Ensemble!
Founded by Chicago musician Aaron Feder, Alma Afrobeat Ensemble (AAbE) sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard. Influenced by musicians such as Fela, A Tribe Called Quest and P-Funk, their sound is a mixture of classic Afrobeat, hip-hop, trance, and funk that transcends the gap between conscious thought and physically driven conviction.
Here’s what Aaron Feder had to say about his initial attraction to the Afrobeat genre, the theme of their fourth studio album entitled “Monkey See Monkey Do”, and what he looks forward to the most returning to the States from Barcelona:
Maximum Ink: What drew you to the Afrobeat sound initially?
Aaron Feder: For me, it was a combination of different elements. The groove, of course, immediately grabbed me. Then the multi-layered, polyrhythmic aspect- the way all the instruments interact and fit within the whole of the music. It is almost orchestral in that way. I also love the fact that the songs say something- it is a music with a rich history of meaning in the lyrics. I love the duality of having important ideas being expressed in a music that makes you dance. That is one of the reasons I love soukous music as well- a thematic juxtaposition or apparent disconnect between the subject matter and the sound of the music.
MI: In 2006, you left Chicago for Barcelona in search of international musicians for your band. Why Barcelona? How did you find the members of your music family?
AF: Well, I had long had a connection with Barcelona, as I had lived there on two other occasions before moving there in 2006. I had studied there for a bit in 1998 and then I also had spent a year there from 2001-2002. As for our musical family here- it all started because on my third day in the city, in 2006, I was on my way to a now defunct music venue called “Bar Electric”. Walking down the street in the same direction was an African gentleman with drumsticks in his hand. I started talking to him, (his name is Kwame, an amazing drummer and dear friend) and we ended up in Bar Electric having a few beers and telling Marlene the owner that one day soon we would play there, which we then did shortly afterwards. Basically, it was through Kwame that I met many of the musicians that played with me in those first years.
MI: Your band has toured extensively through Europe, Spain and the Canary Islands, with three tours of the U.S. How is the reception for your music in the United States vs. Europe?
AF: We have a lot of support from the African community in Barcelona, and I have always felt that our music (as well as our independent record label Slow Walk Music and all the bands on the label) has been warmly received and appreciated.
As for the US- we have great support from great fans there. I think that our music attracts many different types of people from very different social contexts, and for this reason I think that our fans are quite similar regardless of the country we are playing in.
I do have to point out though that, while being a musician is a difficult endeavor no matter where you are, the live music scene in Barcelona is extremely difficult for a variety of reasons which include the city being the most densely populated in all of Europe, the overwhelming importance of discotheque culture, and other factors.
MI: In November 2018 the band headlined and produced the festival “AlterAfrica” at the Fábrica i Coats arts center in Barcelona. The venue itself looks like a creativity utopia! What inspired you to start that festival?
AF: I have been lucky enough to be a musical resident at the “Fabrica de Creacio” (Creation Factory) for the last few years, and my studio and rehearsal space is there. In the FIC (abbreviation for the space) there is an artistic and creative community that is quite well organized, and among the residents there is cooperation to organize different events. The festival we produced was together with our record label, Slow Walk Music (the label is run by myself, our bass player Dinky and our manager, Javi Zarco- Javi was manager for a few legendary acts from Barcelona such as the Rumba guitarist Peret, and the mestizaje band Ojos de Brujo), and other bands from our label. It was quite a success and we hope to be repeating it this year again.
MI: The theme of “Monkey See, Monkey Do”, your longest album to date (with 13 tracks) drives home the importance of originality and standing up for what’s right. What was your inspiration for the album?
AF: Well, the concept for the album was basically that people need to be able to think for themselves, and not just follow others blindly. The song “M’ho Van Fer” in Catalan means “they made me do it”, and the whole song speaks about peer pressure, basically. I believe that the primary reason so many people are politically divided these days is because so many of us are unable to think critically, to appreciate evidence and facts for what they are.
MI: When you travel back to the United States, what do you look forward to the most?
AF: Seeing my family and friends, of course. I have a one-year old niece, Sloan, who is just great and is growing up so quickly. Also, top-notch Mexican food!
Alma Afrobeat Ensemble is playing Atwoodfest in Madison, Wisconsin on July 28th.
The American touring musicians are:
Aaron Feder: Guitar
Matthew Engel: Keys
Cody Jensen: Percussion
Joshua Thomson: Alto sax
Eddie Quiroga: Trombone
Dr. Adrian Barnett: Tenor sax
Ms. Marga Mbande: Lead vocals
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