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Sila & the Afrofunk Experience Will Appear at Salem World Beat Music FestivalSalem-News.com
"Guaranteed to keep you glued to the dance floor" - San Francisco Bay Guardian
(SALEM, Ore.) - A group set to perform at Salem's World Beat Festival Saturday, June 27th, San Francisco ensemble Sila & the Afrofunk Experience, will also appear at the Someday Lounge in Portland, Oregon on June 26th.
The band is celebrating the release of their sophomore recording Black President (Visila Records, May 26, 2009), an album inspired by the historic election of the first African-American U.S. president whose title track has already been downloaded more than 8,000 times.
The World Beat Festival happens at Salem's Riverfront Park June 27th, at 116 Marion Street in Northeast Salem. The event suggests a $3 per person donation to get in and you can learn more about the event by visiting their Website: worldbeatfestival.org.
They also received a great review from the San Francisco Examiner, "Embracing his African roots and his love of funk, Sila channeled James Brown for inspiration and six years later, with the help of his renowned cast of bandmates, he's achieved success without having to compromise his heritage (he sings in both Swahili and English) or his musical tastes."
The list goes on and on. The East Bay Express commented that, "Bay Area dance kings Sila and the Afrofunk Experience combine an international vision with dazzling musicianship. Frontman Sila Mutungi rivets audiences with a combination of James Brown's punchy grooves and Fela Kuti's West African swing. Their debut The Funkiest Man in Africa blows away listeners with its relentless rhythm and sharp songcraft, but can't prepare you for the band's potent onstage energy."
And the Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote, "Sila and his Afrofunk Experience are in the energy exchange business: you give it up, they give it back with interest- no bribes involved. Try that trick with a Nigerian policeman."
Led by Kenyan native Victor Sila, a frontman who has been called a “Kenyan funk master” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “Africa’s James Brown” (Oakland Post), Sila & the Afrofunk Experience draw inspiration from Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti while distinguishing themselves by incorporating African genres such as zouk and soukous, as well as the music of Western artists including Sly Stone and Funkadelic.
Black President finds the ensemble moving further toward progress and change in both their lives and their music, with blossoming musical chemistry, deep funky Afro-grooves and strong socially-conscious, politically-aware lyrics.
Sila began writing material for Black President prior to the November 2008 election of President Barack Obama. The prospect of the first African-American U.S. president raised hopes not only in America but internationally as well.
As Sila explains, “Many Africans believe that Obama is African and he owns his lineage and heritage to Africa. He is a son of Africa; it is in his heart and in the blood of his children. His roots are in Kenya.” Obama’s historic victory, and the promise that holds for U.S.-African relations, is depicted in the album cover art by painter Jarrod Eastman, which shows a casually dressed and relaxed Obama holding Africa in his hands, the continent illuminated from the inside by the sun.
Barack Obama, James Brown and Fela Kuti offer an iconic trinity of musical, cultural, political and ideological influences on Black President. Like Kuti, Sila connects personal issues with larger social and political ideas, and echoes of classic Afrobeat are evident in the Afrofunk Experience’s call-and response choruses, highly syncopated percussion, blazing horns and incessant grooves.
San Francisco Magazine said this about Sila & the Afrofunk Experience, "James Brown's dance floor boogie strut infused with the manic drumming and serpentine guitar jams of Sila's native Kenya."
Brown’s inspiration can be heard in Sila’s shrieks and screams as well as the band's punchy horns, chicken-scratch guitar and funky bass lines. In the title track, the band chugs along with a locomotive-like groove while Sila riffs on the imperative for change which swept Obama to victory.
Other emotionally-charged songs address the global AIDS epidemic, neo-colonialism and political corruption, tribalism in African society and warmongering among Western nations, and explore influences from kinky reggae to Latin-tinged rhythms to Motown-y pop/soul stylings.
A musical and artistic breakthrough, Black President reflects a deeper realization of the band’s ever-evolving identity. To paraphrase Fela’s famous credo, Sila & the Afrofunk Experience want to use music as a weapon for peace and cultural education.
“My goal on the album was to reach out to the younger generation, who have never heard of Baaba Maal or Youssou N'Dour,” Sila explains. “I want to make African music hip to young people.”
As a child in Kenya, Victor Sila Mutungi faced incredible adversity. Born in poverty out of wedlock (a cultural taboo), he was abandoned by his parents and raised by his maternal grandmother, a deeply religious woman who ironically provided his first introduction to Western music.
She would listen to Christian sermons on Voice of America radio, which were followed by a pop-oriented show that featured artists such as James Brown, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson Five. Though Sila’s grandmother considered this “Devil music,” she realized that the music made her grandson happy, and allowed him to listen to the show as long as he also listened to the sermons. This pattern continued in what Sila describes as the “Catholic rock ‘n’ roll” church in Kenya, where the pastor allowed the young man to play the church piano as long as he attended services.
Sila eventually relocated to the U.S. and moved to San Francisco with the intent of sparking a music career. A sold-out 1996 Baaba Maal show at the Fillmore Auditorium provided a cathartic experience for the aspiring young singer and musician. “Seeing an African artist who embraced his cultural heritage was beautiful,” Sila says. “I saw that I didn’t have to hide my African-ness.”
Sila formed the Afrofunk Experience in San Francisco in 2003, seeking out musicians who could help him create the global fusion sound he imagined in his mind. In 2006 the band released its debut album, The Funkiest Man in Africa, a tribute to Kuti that garnered positive reviews. PopMatters gave the CD an “Excellent” rating and said, “Funkiest Man in Africa is so glad to be alive, someone should start a cult around it.”
Global Rhythm said that “the sources of inspiration are many, [yet] the sound is consistent and cohesive,” while Afropop Worldwide called the band “impeccably tight, recalling the crisp punch of James Brown, the sweltering groove of the Meters and the irresistibly danceable feel of Prince.”
Sila & the Afrofunk Experience won “Funk Artist of the Year” at the 2007 Los Angeles Music Awards, and have played such prestigious events as the inaugural Outside Lands Music Festival, Stern Grove Festival, Fillmore Jazz Festival (headliners for five years in a row including at the 25th Annual festival occurring on July 4th & 5th, 2009), and Berkeley Jazz Music Festival.
The San Francisco Weekly wrote, "Mixing the legendary sounds of Fela Kuti with some tricks gleaned from James Brown and P-Funk, Sila and company create a dancefloor-ready throb guaranteed to move you."
The band’s current lineup consists of tenor saxophonist David Boyce (a founder of Afro-futurist jazz ensemble the Broun Fellinis), bassist Wendell Rand, guitarists Ken House and David James, drummer Bennie Murray, trumpeter Mike Pitre, trombonist Andre Webb, and master African percussionists Karamba Kouyate (from Guinea) and Samba Guisse (from Senegal).
In keeping with his mission to combine music with humanitarian efforts, Sila has for the past four years co-produced the Afrofunk Festival, raising musical consciousness among audiences from Seattle to San Diego to raise much-needed funds for education, medical, and health services for East African children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. Playing benefit shows, Sila explains, is his way “to stay connected to other people, to remember that it's not only about us but community.”
Sila & the Afrofunk Experience will celebrate the launch of Black President with CD release parties in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. This summer the band is making its debut at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, and will perform at other select West Coast festivals and markets. For tour dates and more information on Sila & the Afrofunk Experience, please visit afrofunk.net.
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