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Henry Cole and the Afrobeat Collective

Roots Before Branches

(Self-Released; US: 13 Mar 2012; UK: Import)

We’re told that Henry Cole—a Puerto Rican, based in New York—wanted all of his friends together in the same body of music—the salsa ones, the rock ones, the rapper—and he wanted to figure out how he could unite them. Fela Kuti was his lightbulb. So the Afrobeat on this album behaves like an omnivorous bag, willing to swallow anything.


Roots starts tight, trumpets shouting together with Latin American rapport, and briefly you think you’ve got it nailed, but by the end you’ve been taken through classical strings and electronic distortion and you’re finishing with loose rolls of jazz, and you realise it can’t be pegged by mortal ears. Cole is a drummer, not a singer, so there’s no Fela-frontman: this is mainly instrumental, with some vocals from the friends. Percussion itself is the frontman. It’s present almost everywhere. The album is like a journal, he suggests, “something that would express how I was feeling.” It is interesting to see Afrobeat so deliberately renovated in this personal and nonpolitical way.

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