by Floco Torres
In the present day, I seem to blend in with concert goers when it comes to dancing. Provided with the proper alcoholic libation, I fall between a tame two-step and “dance like no one’s watching.” So it would be assumably riveting to see me back in the 70s when Afrobeat music first developed.
On this brisk Thursday night, I had the task of venturing over to Hive Mind for a touring band from Minneapolis called Black Market Brass. My girlfriend (who loves to dance) went with me so at best all I’d have to do is stand close and move when she obliged.
Akron’s own funk/soul band, The Admirables, were an appropriate warm-up as an opener. The Admirables don’t exude a vibe that you HAVE to dance, and that made the room feel cozy starting off. It’s more like feel-good music that you can tap your foot to while seated—or rise into that tame two-step I mentioned earlier. Nathan Paul Davis and Chris Coles (both on saxophone) held the groove out front with interchanging patterns, weaving from improvisation to constructed licks. They kept the set moving, and when they got to a funky tune asking for the call and response of “Catch Me If You Can,” there were only two folks left seated out of the small but avid crowd.
DJ Rusty and DJ Foltz (AT THE HOP! DJs) played an eclectic mix of funk and soul while Black Market Brass took the stage after a swift set change. I had so many questions. I glanced at a few pics before the show and saw one with six members. There were TEN musicians on stage. I saw a van with a trailer hitched to it outside, but how did all ten members fit in there? Was there another car? How many hotel rooms do you reserve for that many people? How were the crowds in the other cities, and are they at least breaking even financially? These questions stem from being a musician myself, but they’re also none of my business of course, so I focused on the show.
There were two guitarist, a percussionist, four horn players, a bassist, drums and a keyboard player playing a double stack (two keyboards). The band’s wardrobe reminded me of a Fat Albert style cartoon. Retro without intention is hard to come by these days. Trumpeter Cameron Kinghorn emceed during their set, and his genuine glee while introducing the band and their songs made it feel like a house party. The Black Market Brass brand of Afrobeat music is like Austin Powers meets Luke Cage meets Blaxploitation soundtracks. Their musicianship level as a band is spotless, paired with synchronized dance moves reminiscent to the rhythm section in a marching band.
They’ve been heavily touring and rehearsing for five plus years, so it’s not a surprise when percussionist David Tullis and drummer Murphy Janssen whirl into dueling and collective solos, and you can’t tell if it’s improv or not. Multiple times during their set, the 10-piece band breaks off into smaller ensembles for parts of the song, only to weave back into the full outfit at the chorus. This type of songwriting is classic to the afrobeat genre, and Black Market Brass just does it really well. I eventually moved from a head nod to my two-step without noticing, and that’s a testament to watching a show where the band is having as much fun as their songs.
[Featured photo courtesy of DreamFirstBorn and Black Market Brass]