Music Review: Afrolicious – Pleasuretime EP (2012, ESL Music)

Afrolicious merge sounds and cross borders. Between tropical and electronic music this is a fresh, collective sound

Genre: Afro-dub / Afrobeat / Downtempo / Ethnic

Region: San Francisco, USA

Artists Website: Afrolicious

Label: ESL Music

Somewhere between the sounds of Lagos, Bamako and the rest of the world, Afrolicious in their second EP in a row are further establishing their own take on ethno-funk, dub and electronic music. The uniqueness of their approach is also their strongest point and every track here has its own story to tell.

Afrolicious is a collective from San Francisco, producing and remixing music as well as playing either as a DJ duo or a full 10-piece live band. Last year’s ‘Dub for Mali’ gained considerable attention with its rare afro-dub style. Here Afrolicious tread further on their more energetic side of their debut (check the track ‘Foolin’) to reach a more complete and refined result in comparison.

The EP kicks off with the title track ‘Pleasuretime’ which is a stunning number, with catchy hooks – memorable melodies in strings, vocals and horns. Horns, strings and electronic beats do not compete each other, they are rather ‘comfortably’ blended. It is an interesting mixture of afrobeat and electronic beats, albeit Afrolicious manage still to retain their organic sound. One can also spot some Thievery Corporation vibes at least in the beginning of the song. ‘Fresh is Life’ from Trinidad & Tobago sings here in a typical Fela style.

‘Revolution’ goes further in the path of the title track but this time with a more classic US funk groove thanks to the playful rhythms and the vocals, courtesy of ‘Pleasuremaker’. There are also some trademark downtempo sounds as well as retro synths.

‘Never Let No One’ is upbeat with vintage keys and general instrumentation and a persisting dance beat. Concerning the dance beat, while it is not out of place, when compared to the rhythmic tradition of afrobeat (legendary percussionist Tony Allen etc.) it sounds more unwieldy and static. Afrobeat, as the term reveals, is based on rich African (poly-)rhythms and if this musical style is infused with electronic beats they could be more inventive than simplistic – but here maybe it is preferable to compare with neo-funk outfits which indeed more often than not incorporate vintage rhythmic simplicity for the sake of the dancefloor (neo-disco). I just want to remind that the last years we have been exposed to tons of competent rhythms in electronic music, so an extra twist is welcome.

‘Bade Malou’ builds a startling atmosphere of sand storms and the deeply enchanting string melody of Ngoni (a West-African string instrument) that wises the listener up that she enters a cultural and spiritual territory of music. This number invokes a dreamy feel with many effects and a bassline straight from the experimental moments of the 1960s and 1970s (prog rock / krautrock era). Nevertheless it bares the most evident ethnic elements over a dubbing vibe. Yacouba Diarra from Burkina Faso is responsible for the smooth vocals (he sang also in ‘Dub for Mali’).

The last song, a dub version of ‘What we came for’ brings the ‘sounds from the thievery hi-fi’ to create the heaviest dub to date appearing in Afrolicious’ releases. DJ Smash does not mish a thing: a persisting beat (akin to UK style), a heavy bassline, echoes and reverbs – everything is there. It is a dub track that you could hear from any good downtempo production albeit heavier plus some instrumental leanings.

Afrolicious, with the recording of Pleasuretime EP, are establishing themselves as a promising collective at the nexus of organic and electronic music. They are touching upon many artists and genres (Fela Kuti, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Thievery Corporation, Amadou and Mariam to name a few). The production is also quite solid, undertaken by Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation. ‘Pleasuretime’ will be out on the 27th of March via the ESL Music imprint. Fans of the ESL, Souljazz, Soundway or Strut sound should check this band out.

As the cultural exchange is ever-intensifying, musical borders are progressively becoming harder to discern between regions, styles and time periods (e.g. traditional vs. modern, organic vs. electronic etc.). Afrolicious are then a prime example of this cross-pollination.

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Discover more breathtaking world music albums through Freegan Kolektiva:

Tiwarinen – Tassili

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – From Africa With Fury: Rise

Vieux Farka Toure – The Secret

AUditors DOmination – Palace of Light (2012, Timewarp music)

Novalima – Karimba (2012, ESL Music)

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