From the cosmopolitan harbor of Lagos, Nigeria, halfway around the world, to the ports of Oakland, Calif., the wild rhythms of the Lagos Roots Afrobeat Ensemble emerge, immortalizing the sounds of Fela Kuti.
Lagos Roots is a relatively new group—they’ve only been performing as a band for three years—but together, the musicians have decades of experience from all musical genres. Which is exactly why frontman Geoffrey Omadhebo hand-selected each of them; after all, integrating elaborate African rhythms with the groove of 1970s jazz and soul demands varied skills. As a matter of fact, the band practiced for two years, in what Omadhebo calls an “Afrobeat education,” before he even booked them a gig.
His perfectionism comes from a lifetime of studying under the greats of African highlife and Afrobeat music. Much of Omadhebo’s youth was spent watching legendary drummer Tony Allen practice with the band Africa ’70 in the 1970s. Fronted by the iconic Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the 30-member Nigerian ensemble invented Afrobeat music, broadcasting Africa’s struggle for human rights and political accord worldwide.
Later, as a session drummer with EMI Records in Lagos, Omadhebo came to join the Nigerian Allstars, the first Afrobeat band to land in the Bay Area. He thrived in the cultural diversity of 1980s Berkeley, where simply stepping out the door was lyrical inspiration: UC Berkeley staged anti-apartheid protests while Nelson Mandela sat in prison, and Oakland slowly emerged from a crack epidemic while San Francisco’s elite pushed for “Manhattanization.” For Omadhebo, the boogie-down rhythms and empowering rhetoric of Afrobeat was a natural avenue for cultural and political expression, and most of all, for neighborhood unity.
“Afrobeat is the voice of the people—in order to be able to speak the truth,” says Omadhebo by phone. “Afrobeat is a context, politically, in the world. Politics is the same thing all around the world, in Africa, Asia, America, Europe. If you play Afrobeat and it does not have any political side, I think it is incomplete.”
For nearly 20 years, Omadhebo has been writing songs and performing with the Bay Area’s most popular Afrobeat ensembles. Along with original Africa ’70 members Babatunde William and trumpet player and singer Christy Agbe, the 15-piece Lagos Roots band is a celebration of Afrobeat’s roots. And by bringing together musicians, dancers and audiences, they encourage everyone to become a part of their art, and of a greater solution.
Get down to Lagos Roots on
Saturday, Feb. 1, at Hopmonk Tavern. 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. 9pm. $15. 707.829.7300.