By Beth Ann Downey
Collegian Staff Writer, State College, PA
Posted on July 30, 2009 4:00 AM
Afromotive, a fusion of West African and funk musical elements, will bring its beats downtown.
Photo By Monty Chandler Photography
It certainly isn’t the ’70s anymore, but Afromotive will return to State College with its innovative music that originated in that era for listeners to judge for themselves.
Even though the band is influenced by West African percussive elements and American funk, Afromotive’s afrobeat music in no way labels it as a throwback band.
In fact, Afromotive, which will perform this weekend, doesn’t sound like any other ‘afrobands’ out there, bassist and percussionist Ryan Reardon said.
“Our appeal comes from the fact no one is playing like we do,” he said.
The band also provides exciting music to “dive into,” Reardon said, because it is fun to listen to and dance with a strong rhythm and groove.
“There is no separation,” he said. “If the music is playing, you’re dancing. It’s one in the same. We bring a dance show.”
The way Afromotive interweaves traditional African elements and James Brown-style funk with the band’s own spin is what gives the music a certain uniqueness even within the afrobeat genre, and this same uniqueness is what Reardon described as being a “driving force” behind the band
He added that many songs start with a simple idea that focuses on inspiring both the band and its audience. The band has recently released a new single called “Simbo,” which is available to download for free on the band’s Web site. Reardon said it is an “outdoor, sunny summer afternoon” kind of tune that draws greatly from the band’s African influence.
Reardon finds inspiration from all different aspects of life. He said he can go into his backyard and listen to sounds of animals and bugs and he also draws from seeing people enjoy the band’s music during a live show.
Ryan Knowles, saxophone player for Afromotive, said the most inspiring thing about the band’s music from an artist’s perspective is how “in the moment” Afromotive’s songs and live performances turn out to be. In his song writing and his performances, Knowles said he sometimes doesn’t really know what he’s doing or what he’s thinking about.
“I’ll write a song, and it’ll take a couple of years for me to have an understanding of where it comes from and what I was doing at the time,” he said.
The band doesn’t consciously pull from any sort of style, Knowles added, but the members will always just run with any inspiration or idea that crops up.
“Any kind of music I do, I always want to just express myself and represent where I am in my life,” he said. “I think we do that.”
Although he is not conscious of many influences, Knowles said the afrobeat style is where the band subconsciously draws from because there are Africans in the group. He said the band really displays both African and American elements equally, but that this fact does not constitute Afromotive’s music as world music.
“What makes us world music is an awareness of the universe and everything that’s going on in the world,” Knowles said.
Adama Dembele, a 33rd generation djembe player from Cote d’Ivoire, is a current band member that lends greatly to Afromotive’s strong ethnic background.
Knowles said Afromotive also previously had an African lead singer, but since the former singer moved back to his homeland, the band has “scaled down.”
Afromotive currently has no lead singer, and instead vocals are shared between band members.
Knowles said the band also used to have a full horn section that served as back-up instrumentation to vocals, but the fact that horns are representative of afrobeat music didn’t inhibit the band from ditching the section to help move the group into a new direction.
“We’re trying to hone in on what the core sound is,” Knowles said.
The scaleback has made Afromotive more of an instrumental band, but Knowles said the band doesn’t need the extra musicians and a big sound to make great music.
“I’m always trying to change things up and throw wild cards in there and have fun with the music,” Knowles said.
He added that the lineup of musicians currently in the band — which changes sporadically — is focused on the craft full-time instead of having major distractions like families and jobs, which takes nothing away from the band’s rehearsal time.
“I was sick of playing with musicians that weren’t full time,” Knowles said. “We needed musicians that really take it seriously.”
Even though Afromotive has gone through about 40 different musicians to find the rotation the band tours with today, Knowles said that most bands go through this sort of phase, and it was cool for him to see the evolution of Afromotive as a whole.
Reardon said the music stayed “cohesive” throughout the many member switches because the band has a core group of songs that hasn’t changed. He added that different musicians coming in with their own personalities brought different approaches to the sound of the band, helping keep the music “fresh.”
“We gave the musicians the freedom to do what they want to because that’s where the music really takes hold,” Reardon said. “You need to have a little bit of faith in them and trust their abilities.”
Knowles said different musicians coming in and out was a lot to keep up with at times, but it was also exciting for him because he likes “flying by the seat of his pants.”
“I like driving at night with sunglasses on and the headlights off,” he said jokingly. “That’s how I live my life. That’s what I think makes for good music.”
Although Knowles takes an impulsive approach to his life and his music, he said it also takes a great amount of precision to play the type of music Afromotive does. He said that upon hearing the band, it’s usually hard to predict what will happen from song to song, and that the music kind of “smacks you in the face.”
“It’s like a rollercoaster ride,” he said. “We want people all over the world to be able to grab onto it and enjoy it.”
He added the music does not speak to any particular demographic, and that anyone who hears it should be able to relate to it.
People from all walks of life are fans of Afromotive, and Knowles said he’s seen both the young and the old dancing to the band’s rhythm.
“If you’re playing music that makes people want to dance, they’re gonna dance,” he said.
Reardon said the band’s live show usually consists of the band playing “fast and hard” and encouraging the crowd to clap and sing along. He added the band had a lot of fun when they last played State College in May, and hopes Afromotive will have the same luck this weekend.
“When we bring a show, we want everyone to be with us in the same place and the same frame of mind,” he said.
Knowles said it’s become evident that young girls in college will dance to the band’s music, and pretty much anything else that “makes you move.”
“And as long as the girls are dancing, the guys are dancing too,” he said.
If you go
What: Live performance from Afromotive
When: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, August 1
Where: Zeno’s Pub, 100 W. College Ave.
Details: $3 before 9:30 p.m., $4 after 9:30 p.m., 21-and-older
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