Antibalas, Who Is This America?

Dan Kaufman

By Dan Kaufman

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
One part dance party, one part political rally

Created in a Mexico City hotel in 1997 by founder Martin Perna, Antibalas (the name means "anti-bullets") give trance-like, epic performances that are equal parts dance party and political rally. This 2004 album by the 13-piece Brooklyn troupe is a sprawling pinnacle of the band's six years of gradual evolution. Moving ever further away from an orthodox interpretation of their hero &#8212 Nigerian demigod, Afrobeat founder and AIDS victim Fela Kuti &#8212 Who Is This America? has a catholic mix of styles, with touches of '70s-era New York salsa, African highlife and both early- and late-'60s Miles. From the intense, polyrhythmic title track, with its tight James Brown horn section, to the heavy groove of "Pay Back Africa," to the haunting melodies of the closer, "Sister," the record builds a convincing and moving arc. Accentuated with occasional words in Spanish, English and Yoruba proclaiming a message of love, peace and political resistance (the powerful "Indictment" manages to rip the entire Bush cabinet while extolling everyone from Robert Kennedy to Noam Chomsky), this remarkable album was purposely timed for release before the 2004 election. It might just be the greatest musical legacy of George W. Bush's reign.