Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band Bone Reader
Review by Michael Stone
For listeners, unfortunately, music industry economics long ago curtailed the touring prospects of big bands like Chopteeth, the horn-heavy Washington, DC-based 12-piece Afrofunk orchestra founded in 2007. Yet live appearances by spirited transnational ensembles like this, singing in seven languages, are precisely the point of socially provocative music in these, our times. Hence, Chopteeth has won a fierce regional following from Baltimore to DC and suburban Virginia, with sporadic forays afield to such venues as New Orleans’ Congo Square World Music Festival.
Bone Reader, their third release, testifies to what DC metro music aficionados have long known: from start to finish, Chopteeth holds its own with the best of Afrobeat groups inspired by James Brown disciples Fela Kuti, Tony Allen and their West and West Central African confreres. Channeling the classic vocal-guitar-brass-percussion sounds of Congolese, Ghanaian, Guinean, Nigerian, Senegalese and South African popular music, Chopteeth’s sonic signature is a conscious, uninhibited, funkadelic dance mélange of crackling soul, R&B, jazz and hip-hop.
"Questions of Our Day" (excerpt)
Issuing an initial challenge and setting the groove, “Questions of Our Day”—sung in English and French—opens the disc with a blasting brass Afrofunk hip-hop contestation of the nature of power and global inequality (“Who’s gonna rush to war, who’s gonna pay the price?”).
"Edward Snowden" (excerpt)
A pointed commentary on the international security state mentality and the unbridled surveillance, abduction and extrajudicial transfer of US enemies, “Edward Snowden” includes samples from the fugitive consultant’s musings: “Isn’t this unconstitutional? Isn’t this a violation of rights? Is that the kind of society we want to live in? If I end up in chains in Guantanamo, I can live with that.”
"DC Vote" (excerpt)
“DC Vote” skewers the “taxation-without-representation” travesty of denying voting rights to District of Columbia voters, in an anthem with relevance to Puerto Rico as well: “Shouldn't matter which side you’re on, just gotta know right from wrong… Free DC, statehood now!”
“Cop Show” builds on a simple guitar lick and rhythmic figure to call out police brutality with a menacing wall of brass: “I know you heard the news, how the boys in blue still break the rules. Big guns drawn when they make they move, and another black boy just made the news. And that’s new, current, they treat us like vermin, they wanna shake hands but the blood on theirs… too many scandals, but we only burn candles…”
Sometime just showing its chops, Chopteeth throws down the occasional extended instrumental improvisation, as on “Rambeau” and “Warriors.” However, the band’s ecumenical political motive is never in doubt, as on “Tribulation,” a spirited shout-out among others to Timbuktu, Dakar, Conakry, Bamako, Juba, Abidjan, Accra, Lagos, Kinshasa, Goma, Gaza, Syria, USA. Live may be preferable, but Bone Reader is a worthy essay of this band band at its apex. - Michael Stone