Occidental Brothers Dance Band International: ODO Sanbra
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Occidental Brothers Dance Band International
ODO Sanbra
artist release

Anglos playing African music is not a new phenomenon, but several up-and-coming bands threaten to make it a sub-genre. What distinguishes this new wave of bands is that their music arrives without a whiff of exoticism; it has a sure-handedness that lays claim to the tradition even if the traditions happens to be from a place outside the boundaries of where the musicians were born.

The Occidental Brothers are a Chicago-based band of three Americans and two Ghanian musicians. The band members have disparate backgrounds, but found each other through their mutual love for vintage Afropop. Much of the group's music is based on west African highlife, but it has subtle influences from its members' rock and jazz backgrounds.

The band began playing covers and honed its chops in regular gigs in Chicago clubs, but its self-produced debut album is mostly comprised of tunes written by the band. Lead guitarist Nathaniel Braddock has the sweet and mercurial leads of West African music down pat, while sax player Greg Ward does well riding melodiously atop the galloping polyrhythms, replacing the usual second guitar in African bands. Despite founder Braddock's pedigree in indie rock bands, the Anglo members do not hybridize the music into a rock-tinged sound - even when they play New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" - to most listeners, this sounds like it is the product of many long nights at a West African dance club.

A pleasant change of pace from the uptempo swing of the album is the sweet acoustic guitar-centered "Masanga" and the classic of the palmwine genre "Yaa Amponsah."

In its hometown of Chicago, the band is popular in a variety of settings - from jazz clubs to Latin dance nights. A few listens to this well-played, bright, easy-going album makes it clear why this hard-working band is winning over audiences who never thought to listen to African music. - Marty Lipp

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