August 7, 2008

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Dancing to the Afro beats
The Afromotive play at the Stone Church
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

It’s West African funk jazz music that tends to move different people to dance in different ways.

Ryan Reardon, bass player for The Afromotive, remembers a break dancer and a ballerina dancing at the same time at one of their Florida shows.

“We could have been playing chamber music,” Reardon said about the ballerina. “She was with it.”

Other times, it’s the elders shaking their moves in swing form. Jack Silverman, a music critic for the Nashville Scene, wrote about the band, “If you can stand still listening to their music, check your pulse — you might be dead.”

On Saturday, Aug. 16, they eight-piece band will play a show at the Stone Church, their first New Hampshire show. The have played shows in Boston and Burlington, Vt. Their game plan, with the launch and success of their debut album, Scare Tatics, is to broaden their touring circuit, which has been heavily focused on the South.

Reardon often talks about “looking forward,” or “moving forward,” like Ken Kesey talking about going “further” in the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, though he’s not proposing any acid tests at his shows.

“We’re playing music that’s trying to grab people,” he said. “Let’s move forward. Let’s do something different. Let’s not stay in the rut we’re in.”

For Reardon, the move to play West African music is a way to challenge the Western tradition of learning music through books.

“It let me branch out. I was stuck in this Western mentality of music. You go to classical-based music school. You learn to read to the ultimate perfection,” he said. “In the West African realm, it’s about feel. That’s number one. If you can feel it, you can play it; if you can say it, you can sing it; if you can hear it, you can dance to it. You have to sing it back and feel it to make good music, I think.”

For the jazz-trained Reardon, playing African beats add another dimension to the music.

“Afro beat has a repetitive nature to it. The challenge is to keep that going and make it interesting to the listener,” he said. “It’s still important to make your music accessible.”

The band is led by Kevin Meyame, a native of Cote D’lvoire, in West Africa, who sings and plays the djembe and congas, and Adama Dembele, also a native of Cote D’lvoire, who, his bio states, learned the art of drumming from his family. The drumming and bass set the beat for the keyboards, guitar, saxophones and trumpet, fusing West African traditions with North American ones.

Touring with eight people can be a challenge, especially after Bus, their touring transportation, broke down recently. Their old vehicle ran on biodiesel, and once in a while, they would play a show at a bar or restaurant and be able to fill their fuel tank for free at the same time, with used cooking oil. “It’s messy, it stinks,” Reardon said. “But when you drive away with 50 gallons of free fuel, it’s definitely nice. It’s well worth it.”


The Afromotive
Where: The Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket.
When: Saturday, Aug. 16, at 9 p.m.
Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show. www.thestonechurch.com, 659-6321