By Jennifer Toledo
Arts & Entertainment Editor
The Afromotive is a quickly rising ten-piece band out of Asheville North Carolina. Their unique Afro-beat music is funky and energetic, danceable and deeply infused with traditional West African rhythms. The band is currently enjoying the release of their debut album “Scare Tactics,” recorded and produced by WCU music school alumni Jacob Keller. The Afromotive actively tours live around the US and our surrounding area of Western North Carolina. The Afromotive played on the UC lawn on September 12, opening up for “Yo Momma’s Big Fat Booty Band,” attracting a large crowd and delivering a sonic dose of pure funky afrobeat.
The Afromotive is a perfect example of what happens when those who have perfected an art decide to investigate its roots and make a return to the ancestry. American Jazz originated from Africans in America who were improvising with the tools of another land to recall a lost tradition – the tradition of their homeland, the drum. Thus, it seems perfectly natural for this group of Jazz musicians out of Asheville to reunite with traditional West African drum rhythms and with such success. Ryan Reardon, the bass player, traveled to Ghana in West Africa where he studied gyil, a relative of the xylophone, before starting up this musical project with Kevin Meyame of The Ivory Coast.
Well-planned layers of colorful, geometrical sounds are stacked upon one another to create a solid but intricate tapestry of harmonious sound, interwoven seamlessly by drummer Curtis Wingfield and reinforced by Reardon on Bass. A nearly full-range horn section, from Ryan Knowles on baritone and alto saxophone to Tyler Kittle on tenor sax to Sean Smith on trumpet, fleshes out the Afromotive sound. Jesse Howerton on keyboards assures that all gaps are filled, balancing out each song with mid-tone melodies.
Over the summer, I had the privilege of sitting down with bassist Reardon over coffee to ask him about his experience with the band. One of the first things I had noticed about the new album, “Scare Tactics,” was the upbeat tone of the music coupled with lyrics that expressed warnings, politically overt messages and dark sociopolitical observations. I found it intriguing and when I evaluated it on an artistic level, decided that it was necessary when dealing with songs about the human condition to include these facets – to exclude them would be unrealistic and unfair. Still curious about the making of these songs, I asked Reardon about them.
“You want people to like your music, to have fun, but you also want something to be good at a deeper layer, something personal. Whether its dark, happy or accusatory, whatever it is, you still want people to want to listen,” Reardon says.
When I queried Reardon about whether or not playing this music is in a sense a cathartic means of overcoming these sociopolitical issues, he replied that “if someone is a strong enough performer, and a strong enough artist, their intention comes across without explanation. Maybe our intentions are not necessarily to overcome the meaning in the lyrics, but react to the things that are being sung about.”
The lyrics in The Afromotive’s songs are not about particular situations, but refer to more universal concepts common to all societies.
“Corruption is corruption and lies are lies, whether it happens here or there,” Reardon stated, explaining that many of the songs, sung in different languages – English, French and Baoule, a native tongue of the Ivory coast – describe political indecencies that have happened throughout history, all over the world.
Though the lyrics do have a serious tinge, the explosive music of Afromotive is cathartic to say the least, which would explain the band’s growing success. At the UC lawn last week, the last song on the set featured Knowles growling out a brazen solo on his saxophone, a bold move that I’m sure left the audience craving more. Look for Afromotive on November 7 and 8 at the Rocket Club in Asheville.