Afrofunking, Old White People Style

Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band at the Avalon Theater, Easton, MD – January 14th, 2012

I’m in the cozy Avalon Theater of Easton, Maryland for the first time. I am the youngest person in this spot by a country generation. I guess that’s to be expected at an afrofunk concert – a genre defined in the 70’s by the fantastic Fela Kuti. To my surprise, though, of the DC collective’s thirteen band members, only one is black – the hand drummer. But that’s cool, a little cross-cultural musical exploration never hurt anyone. Also to my dismay, only one member was sporting an afro. You guessed it, the grey-bearded trombonist. That’s right, the guy in the zebra-print shirt. Completing the ensemble are two trumpeters, two saxophonists, two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, a percussionist, an accordionist, and a keyboardist – all of whom appear to have years of jamming experience. As the set list plays its course, the crowd is taken from musical land to land, from Ghana to Guinea and Nigeria to America.

In Africa or South America, this music would bring people of all generations to their feet – man, woman, youth, child. Yet here, with a greying, all-white crowd of reasonable affluence (as tipped off by the wine and craft brews being sold), the audience sits, and admires; appreciating, no doubt, but still only beholders to be entertained. What is it about us that makes us think and observe when we should be mingling about in the moment, the feeling, the rhythm? It’s not quite shameful – I’m sure there’s a method to the honky madness – though it is sad.

And now I am seeing – from the bunch that have mustered the sloppy, beer-induced courage to grace the dance floor – why us white-folk are so reluctant to move our bodies. Words fail me. Though, ‘flailing’, ‘jerky’, ‘lubberly’, ‘elephantine’, ‘maladroit’, and ‘gauche’ are all words that can be thrown together in any manner to be more or less sufficient. Sure, I’ve had a few Fat Tire IPA’s, regardless, it isn’t possible to refrain from laughing, at least cracking a wry smile upon the sight of these dancing mannequins. God help us. But by golly, they are enjoying themselves, and that’s worth the embarrassment, and a sign that the music ain’t half bad.

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