There are no half-measures for Benin-born, Nigeria-raised artist Kaleta and his Super Yamba Band. It’s clear in every detail of new album Mèdaho, starting with the tropicosmic technicolor of his album art and continuing on through each psychedelic track. Even the brief instrumental introduction “Gogo Rock” is a bold piece, with percussion, synths, and strings always on the move, ready to rouse a packed room. Kaleta’s electric guitar solo a couple of minutes in is a good indicator that major skill is in play. But that’s not the half of it, and it doesn’t take the group long to take their sound from easy crowd-pleasing to an absolutely outrageous combination of Brooklyn and West Africa that’s ready to burn down the house.
By the album’s second track, “Mr. Diva”, Kaleta is in full swing. Powerful screams over rolling drums preface smooth, brassy funk that exemplifies the specifically Brooklyn-based Afrobeat scene. As Kaleta alternates between full-volume singing and ecstatic shouts, he entrances with his acid-washed energy almost palpable even within the confines of a studio setting. On guitar, he is equally dynamic, every solo just unpredictable enough to thrill while reliably making for a satisfying climax. Kaleta is a bandleader with star quality in spades. The title track “Mèdaho” is a particular standout in terms of showing just what Kaleta can do when he’s willing to break a sweat – and he’s nothing if not all-in at all times.
Of course, it can be hard to be a leader without an equally talented backing band, and fortunately, the Super Yamba Band has all the elements needed to keep up with Kaleta. Skilled to the point of total ease in their work, the group creates the thickly textured atmosphere – polyrhythms and intricate melodic lines that make even the longest and most repetitive song interesting for its entire duration – that Afrobeat needs. Keys tend to be the most important element in holding down backing melodies, with brass often alternating with Kaleta for lead lines. “Goyitò” is a particularly clear example of this structure, a simple synth line present throughout the track while horns make quick movements forward, and a saxophone solo adds liquid gold to the mix.
Besides interest, another advantage to such complex instrumentation is the feeling of speed. Never stagnant, ever driving, such is the way for Super Yamba Band. That’s true even in the relative wistfulness of tracks like “La Guele” or the low-key groove of the funky “Super Yamba Theme”. Both are built on strong, slow-moving rhythmic foundations that are still punctuated by such frequent, exciting notes of bass and brass that there is never a moment of lethargy.
As the aforementioned “Theme” calls out different parts of the world, it does so with a sense of wanting to bring people together. “Mek we go together,” sings Kaleta in plain profundity, and it’s easy to cheer on Super Yamba Band in working toward that goal. On Mèdaho, Kaleta and his band push boundaries, never resting when they can innovate, always favoring melodies meant to excite and engage larger audiences. It’s difficult to imagine anyone resisting the group’s infectious beats – and so much easier to get on the dancefloor and groove the night away.