The underlying pulses of soul and feel are what makes music, regardless of genre, ripple with life beyond a numerical exercise and display of skill, and neither can be manufactured – the stink of falseness and premeditation reveals the truth of what’s inside. San Francisco-based Afrolicious drips buckets of feel and soul, a soundwave tsunami that performs the aural equivalent of a confident dancer spinning and dipping one as bass vibrates the hair on your neck and arms, the air suddenly humid as rhythm you sense physically as much as hear make you lean into the twirl.
Truth be told, DI is super duper picky about any modern African influenced music, where so much of it seems like a faded copy of a copy of what Fela, King Sunny Ade and Salif Keita pioneered so crisply. There’s also the inevitable transposition of bringing this music into an American context, which usually only succeeds to varying degrees and often lets the political and social messages override the pure, direct enjoyment factor that is never forgotten by the African originators, who all understand that unless they move folks’ bodies they are never going to move their minds.
In nearly every respect, Afrolicious’ full-length debut album, California Dreaming (pick it up here) skirts these pitfalls, crooning seductively, “I just love how music makes me feel – so real.” This long-player is a modern answer to the heady – intellectually and groove-a-liciously – work of Gary Bartz Ntu Troop, Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes, and other 70s electric jazz innovators, where the dance floor is never out of mind but the conversation, largely focused on the betterment and better enjoyment of the species, isn’t dumbed down.
Born from a weekly party founded in 2006 by brothers Joe and Oz McGuire, aka DJs Pleasuremaker and Señor Oz, this SF collective keeps the conversation deliciously catholic, offering echoes of Nyabinghi, dub flourishes, polished, propulsive soul music, Brazilian flutters, Blaxploitation soundtrack grit, and some of the swankiest horn get down since Prince whipped up a Madhouse. With monikers like Qique Padilla, Diamond Vibes, Billy Magic and Fresh is Life, one knows immediately that this band is ready to get into character for spaceship ride back to the Motherland by way of this Otherland. The winds of Africa surely blow in these tracks but also Michael Jackson at his slamming Off The Wall best (“Revolution”) and Deee-Lite (“Horizons” and the generally sonically rich undertow of the whole enterprise), the latter a major compliment in DI’s book – those that think that band was a one-hit wonder need to spend a lil’ quality time with Dewdrops In The Garden (1994) to see just how ahead of their time Lady Miss Kier and the boys were (taste here).
Afrolicious is THE heat live, but they’ve bettered the competition by crafting a studio incarnation that high kicks and bounces in a wholly alluring way. The production is clean and present but consistently tweaked with fine little touches that one picks up on subsequent spins, the background lushly filling in as much as the central players in the frame over time. The collective just celebrated their sixth anniversary this month, and based on California Dreaming, there’s still plenty in the tank for many miles ahead.