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Canada’s Afrodizz

3 August 2006 at 02:18 | 635 views

Gabriel Aldama has achieved the Fame-like dream of leaving music school to start a band. He’s the leader of Afrodizz, an eight-piece ensemble based in Montreal, that has two full-length releases under its belt.

Afrodizz draws on a host of musical influences including blues, rock, punk, jazz, and hip hop, but its sonic and political roots are grounded in the “afrobeat” tradition, a genre pioneered by the late Fela Kuti, a Nigerian human rights activist and political leader. Kuti believed in fighting black inequality through resistance, empowerment and music. And the sound? Afrobeat combines African percussion, uptempo jazz, funk rhythms and highlife (a style of African popular jazz) to create a gritty, danceable sound that encourages listeners to move — in dance and in political action.

Although Afrobeat had its heydey in 1960s, it keeps getting reinvented through present-day jazz and hip hop. And Afrodizz also cites contemporary musical influences as diverse as Bjork, The Gorillaz, Beck, and Beastie Boys. “Afrodizz has a touch of jazz, but the same time it’s not jazz,” Aldama explains. “It’s a mix of everything.” But the main goal of Afrodizz is “to make people dance.”

The Tyee caught up with Gabriel Aldama during the first leg of Afrodizz’s Canadian tour, which touches down in BC this weekend at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Afrodizz will perform this Saturday, July 15, at 4:15pm on Stage Four.

What follows are excerpts from the conversation.

On musical surfing:

I was at the University of Montreal, and left after one year to start Afrodizz. I like to play music, but sometimes in university you have to sit and listen to the teacher; that wasn’t what I wanted at that moment in my life. You can go into music without studying music and be a really great player, like the Beatles. So there are lots of ways to go in music. You have to find your own way to do it, and to work on it.

For me, it was a fun band that I wanted to form to get more experience and get more contacts in music. To show people what I could do in arranging music and composing. This is just really the best music I’ve ever played in my life. We are surfing on what happened to Afrodizz. We are very lucky to do this job. But we have to work hard if we want to live with it.

On ‘chemical shimmy’:

[In our new album, Froots,] we wanted to recreate some machine sounds, but with just instruments. We really want to keep the music roots with no big machines, no synth, no recorder: everything has to be made by voice and instruments. It has to be human. It’s art, and art never knows where it goes.

It’s never the same thing. We surf on this. But the idea is that Afrodizz is a band that everyone [has known] each other for the last five years...after all this time, everybody knows each other and we have kind of a chemical shimmy together.

It’s really easy to compose because everybody knows each other and I know the drummer instinctively where he’s going. Same thing with the bassist, everybody, really, is part of the band. It’s a really creative band, based on everybody’s knowledge of everybody.

On the small world of Montreal:

My parents are not musicians, and I am the only, only artist in all my family. But my parents always said to me, "Do what you want in life. Just do it properly, do it the best you can and go far on it."

I really like seeing other [artists’] shows. I am always out somewhere watching someone play. Everybody [in Montreal’s music community] knows each other, even if they’re not in the same band. And every Wednesday, I organize a night with all the musicians in Montreal. We play and improvise together. And we go out to see a lot of shows. Dancing is a big part of my life.

Jackie Wong edits The Tyee’s Music Pix and assists in editing Tyee Books.

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