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San Francisco's Aphrodesia displays a love for Fela-funk

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The term "afrodesia" has been used to describe the intersection of pleasure and soulfulness. I have a distinct feeling, though, that the San Francisco 11-piece Afrobeat band Aphrodesia derived its name from the Decca Records sub-label on which Afrobeat inventor Fela Kuti released many of his most important and globe-spanning albums.

And band members take their adulation seriously. Singer Lara Maykovich has lived in Ghana and Zimbabwe, where the band picked up the "highlife" genre's rhythms for its 2003 debut Shackrobeat Vol. 1. And the entire crew overcame daunting Nigerian border police to visit Lagos and the New Afrika Shrine nightclub, where Femi Kuti continues his father's immense legacy.

Along with some dub, funk and hip hop, that bubbling stew of influences went into Aphrodesia's latest release, last year's impressive Lagos By Bus, which ranges from the African funk of "Agayu" to the extended kalimba trance music of "Virgin of the Sun God" (compare to Kinshasa's Konono No1). And the infectious "Bus Driver" is not only about the group's bumpy off-road journeys in Africa; it also refers to the recycled-veggie-oil vehicle its tours in Stateside.

Along with its concern for the environment, Aphrodesia's music conveys a powerful message of social justice; it plays many benefit shows in addition to the jazz and jam-band festival circuits. Due to the sultry twin call-and-response of Maykovich and Maya Dorn, Aphrodesia is a bit less hard-edged and militant-sounding than, say, Antibalas. But don't let any hippy-dippy connotations stop you from enjoying the joyous horns and the tight rhythm section that drives both its original songs and faithfully updated reinterpretations of Fela classics.

With enough time and the right mix of genders on the dance floor, a band this good could indeed work wonders as an aphrodisiac.

 

Aphrodesia. 8 p.m. Thu., July 24. Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $10. 412-682-0177 or www.thunderbirdcafe.net

The high life: Aphrodesia
  • The high life: Aphrodesia

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