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INTERVIEW: Antibalas Founder Martín Perna Talks Afrobeat, Collaborations, and more


Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff

Antibalas is one of the leading names in world music. As afrobeat purveyors, the orchestra has played festivals all over the world, and had the chance to work with some massive names in music. The band is amidst a four-nights-in-four-weeks residency at the Brooklyn Bowl in New York, where they’re digging deep into their catalogue and collaborating with different musicians each night. We caught up with founder Martín Perna to poke his brain about the residency, collaborationsm afrobeat, and more.

You guys are amidst a four-night, weekly residency at the Brooklyn Bowl. How’s that going?

So far, so good. Two down, two to go. For us it’s a lot of work because each week we do an entirely different program of songs, moving chronologically through our repertoire. It’s cool for newer guys in the band to play these songs for the first time and for the more senior guys, it brings back a lot of memories.

What is the process in collaborating with an artist like Santigold, for example?

We try to make it as effortless as possible for them when they come into the rehearsal studio. We learn the song forms as recorded, then figure out how to Antibalasize it.

Let’s say in an alternate universe Fela Kuti is playing a similar residency, inviting four different guests for four different nights. Who would you like to see him collaborate with?

Hmm. I’d love to see him with Ginger Baker, Miles Davis who said that afrobeat is the music of the future, Herbie Hancock, and Antibalas, for purely selfish reasons.

Antibalas is one of the largest names in afrobeat music in 2015. What does it mean to you to be at the forefront of the music in modern day?

The music is still very underground and doesn’t lend well to being commercialized as 1] the song forms are very long, 2] it’s often explicitly political and 3]it’s not in Standard English. But we get respect from people who know music and that is worth to us as artists more than mainstream accolades.

How does always-changing Brooklyn influence your music?

It has weakened us in that we can no longer afford to live close by each other nor can we mantain our own studio, things which we enjoyed in the late 90s when the band was formed. But we improvise, and that’s why we are still able to be here.

What five afrobeat records would you want if you were stranded on an island?

There would have to be a record player on said island, which is doubtful but to answer your question

Confusion – Fela Fela Live with Ginger Baker Blow on Wind by Bongi Makeba Tony Allen – Jealousy Afro Rock by Assagai

Thanks for your time, anything else you’d like to add?

This is a social music: it is best experienced live.


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