Is there really anything as groovy as afrobeat? Not even the late funk great James Brown was able to create rhythms as effective as Fela Kuti did in his best days. Before the saxophone goes amok at the 30 second mark in the Nigerian’s evergreen “Zombie”, one’s hips are already out of control – even if your shy mind wants to or not.
Neither the Berlin-based collective Onom Agem & the Disco Jumpers is quite at level of their spiritual leading star – who is? – but the quintet is damned close. On this year’s excellent album debut, “Cranes and Carpets”, all the defining genre characteristics are there. Amorous funk guitars are scuffling with frenzied horns and flutes, while the rhythm section is existing several places at once.
When this crazy smear somehow still is larger than the sum of its parts, it’s because of the magic of afrobeat: If a band plays well enough together, the groove loosens all joints of the body at the same time. Songwriter and tenor saxophonist Johannes Schleiermacher – or Onom Agemo, if you will – is quite well-travelled, which makes the music something more than just a great genre exercise.
While the band’s love for fantastic man William Onyeabor’s squiggly, psychedelic synth music is expressed through their playful use of analog synthesizers, one can also hear touches of spiritual Maroccan issawa and Ethiopian jazz funk. If the afrofunk quintet had tried to sing in their mother’s tongue, they’d probably sound like Kraftwerk without a life threatening lack of vitamin D.
Instead the members have focused all powers on their respective instruments. You’ll hear it – and feel it.
Text: Kim Klev