If you bring up the phrase ‘world music’ to people, they might think about bands from traditional societies playing traditional tunes while dressed in traditional garb. But it’s 2018 and that trope is stale and should be left in the dust. Like literally everything else in our modern and interconnected world, music and musicians don’t exist in a vacuum. And just because a band is from Nigeria or Indonesia or Ecuador shouldn’t mean that the only way for them to make a living elsewhere in the world is by playing traditional music.
Lucky Goat, an African-owned coffee shop in Brewerytown, is trying to change how these bands are perceived. In their ongoing music series Lucky Goat Presents, owners Toyin Ajayi Frankel and her husband Andrew Frankel are bringing bands from across the continent to Johnny Brenda’s. The series continues tonight with a show by Nigerian-born, London-based Eno Williams and her group Ibibio Sound Machine. The band’s bio says they are “a clash of African and electronic elements inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West African funk, disco, and modern post-punk and electro” and the eight piece proves that correct over and over again on their most recent album, the Merge Records-released Uyai.
Since 2015, Lucky Goat have presented numerous shows at Johnny Brenda’s including concerts by Mauritanian griot singer Noura Mint Seymali and Congolese rumba band Orchestra Afrisa International. According to Andrew Frankel, “What we have been doing with Johnny Brenda’s is simply to try to showcase authentic African popular music to give people a small sense of the richness and diversity of that continent.”
While in the past these bands might have performed in spaces that highlighted their otherness – which is to say, their differences from what American audiences may be used to – there has been a shift in the past few years with how they’re presented. Just this week you have the Ibibio Sound Machine show at Johnny Brenda’s, Tuareg guitar wizard Mdou Moctar at PhilaMOCA, and Algerian desert rock band Imarhan playing with psych heavyweights Sunburned Hand of the Man and Bardo Pond at West Kensington Ministry.
Being able to easily listen to and research music from around the world has definitely been part of this change. Bands, too, can feel more comfortable presenting themselves like any other musical act. Ibibio Sound Machine covers The Cure on their new EP and also shows up on a recent Mountain Goats tribute album Merge put out alongside Laura Jane Grace from Against Me!, Amanda Palmer, and Andrew Bird.
In an e-mail to The Key, Johnny Brenda’s Venue Manager Greg Mungan pointed out that the bedrock of western popular music is, “… built upon the music of Africa. If you come to a Lucky Goat show, you are likely to see elements of folk, psychedelia, pop, the roots of Latin music as well as the musical foundations of funk and rock n’ roll.”
Asked about promoting these shows to the Johnny Brenda’s audience, he said, “Our ethos is rooted in building a progressive community with a DIY approach. … If we can persuade someone who attends an indie rock show to come see a Lucky Goat show, the artist and the concert-goer’s combined experience does the work of breaking down musical and cultural barriers.”
This is also something at the forefront of what Lucky Goat is trying to accomplish. In 2017 they started to work with the Abington Art Center just outside of the city. The Abington World Music Series has presented a number of free outdoor concerts featuring bands from Haiti, Guyana, Cuba, Congo, and the Balkans. According to Adam Frankel, “The unifying thread there is the universality of musical expression, and how words and sounds from across the globe can stimulate and bring together our community here at home. … We successfully attracted a regional crowd, as well as people from the artists countries. I think that is the holy grail of presenting international arts is when you can attract both of those audiences together.” This year’s series will be announced soon.
Ibibio Sound Machine performs tonight at Johnny Brenda’s; tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.
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