This album references so many different parts of the world it is hard to see what is “Toubab” (an African term for ‘white man’) about it. The opening is an upbeat groove reminiscent of an American soul revue; yet the album becomes as dark and intensely danceable as any African musical experience can be. With vocal shouting and busy tenor sax solos reminiscent of the afrobeat Godfather himself, Fela Kuti, the mood rises and falls as a varied combination of elements mingle together. A gentle marimba contrasts with an angular horn phrase on the song “Mali.” A gripping funk follows, with hopeful brass between crunching guitars. Stark messages dig deep, but the album lifts to jubilance with South African references and an Ethiopian jazz classic as the finale.
The song “Own World” is a standout, incorporating neo-soul, acid jazz, Afrobeat and funk. Its guitar backing is almost in the smooth jazz vein, and the bass is liquid, while the horns carry the melody. Interspersed between choruses, singer Babacar “Baba” Gaye roars in contrabass range. When a line like “The music bomb/let it hit you” punctuates a cool jazz trumpet solo, distant styles are bridged. “New School” is another favorite. Gaye croons stand-alone lines like “Don’t fall in love/Stand in love” in the percussive, contrapuntal manner that is distinctive to Afrobeat. MCs Krukid and Rasta Glover thicken the stew with multi-lingual rapping.
This band has gone through a number of incarnations. The project started in New Orleans, but has moved to Champagne-Urbana, then Chicago, Illinois, and now Barcelona, Spain. Though originally conceived as a Fela cover band, the act has taken on a life of its own as Aaron Feder, a Chicago-native, has become not only a bandleader but also a composer. Currently, members of the band hail from Europe, the United States, Latin America, and Africa. Feder continues to study with Afrobeat legends, like guitar master John Kwame Adzraku of Ghana, in Spain. Perhaps he refers to “Toubab” in a loving sense, as if to say “It’s a big family, we can all bring soul to the party.”