Reviews June 16, 2014
No Discount

Drummer and California native Charles Ferguson founded Zongo Junction in 2009, inspired by the West African rhythms he had been exposed to during a six-month stay in Ghana the previous year. Upon returning to Brooklyn, he rallied his musical peers, many of whom were relatively unfamiliar with the movement, and the group quickly began making a name for itself in New York City’s Afrobeat scene, releasing its debut EP, Thieves!, in 2010.

Produced by Brooklyn’s Mikey Freedom Hart and mastered by Brian Lucey of The Black Keys, No Discount will be Zongo Junction’s second full-length album, complete with nine tracks that bring a new spin to the genre as we know it. That’s right, the band doesn’t play straight-up Afrobeat. Instead, it splices the genre with definite psychedelic and dance music influences, incorporating the type of electrified sound that thrives among younger generations of Western listeners.

Don’t get us wrong—the music is still recognizably Afrobeat. Anchored by a powerful rhythmic section, the beats never stop. Horns still sound in triumphant celebration over funky polyrhythmic grooves that weave clean guitars into traditional beats, a move that references the sunny dance style of Ghanaian highlife. Zongo Junction’s modern spin comes with the music’s subtle electronic veneer, created when rhythms shift into heavy repetition and variation, most often in the songs’ midsections. The keyboard presence becomes noticeably stronger, particularly in “The National Zoo,” the album’s longest track, and distorted electric guitar drifts into a hypnotic trance that only the song's brassy recapitulations will snap you out of.

With this album, Zongo Junction proves just how flexible Afrobeat can be. One minute you’re grooving to a track rife with the kind of traditional energy that brought the band its initial acclaim, the next you’re being carried into an instrumental dream space by jazzy brass solos. Unless, of course, the track is under a minute long, as with “Unknown Elsewhere,” the shortest on the album. Or unless eerie brass drones constitute almost the entire song, as with “Invented History.”

The band will spend this summer touring the U.S. to support the new album, kicking it all off with a free album release show on July 5 at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, an event for which Afropop Worldwide is a media sponsor. Ferguson is also excited to bring Zongo Junction back home to the West Coast and to headline many of the tour’s shows with Afrolicious, a San Francisco-based dance-fusion collective.

Check it out!