The legacy of Fela Kuti and his afrobeat sound is so immense and lasting, it’s easy to forget that his best music was a statement of political resistance unique to Nigeria in the 1970s. To their credit, the members of Iconili — a musical collective from Belo Horizonte — respect the foundations of afrobeat without embalming the genre like a museum piece.
This being Brazil, the creative manifesto of ‘cultural cannibalism’ — combining disparate influences into a new alchemical whole — is omnipresent. True to form, Iconili’s new 5-song EP, Tupi Novo Mundo, starts in Africa but slithers trance-like through related idioms such as funk and jazz — all the while infused with Brazilian rhythms. It’s a melting pot fusion that the band refers to as ‘tropical psychedelia’. In an interview with the music blog, Amplicifador, the band described their musical threads:
[Afrobeat] is one of the most distinguishable styles in our music, but within each composition we have the personal influence of all members ranging from rock, choro, samba and jazz. Afrobeat was something that everyone assumed as a reference, but at no time did we leave aside other rhythms.
Iconili redefines the Afrobeat sound
Iconili was founded by mineros André Orandi and Gustavo Cunha, in 2007, during a drunken night in Diamantina. The group has gone through various permutations since then — most members coming from the interior cities of Minas Gerais and the rest from Belo Horizonte (BH). Tupi Novo Mundo is only the band’s second album, but the first since the lineup expanded to 11 musicians. They’re offering the 26-minute EP free to download, and it’s a righteous groove not to be missed.
Most recently, the band members worked with Oghene Kologbo — who, as a guitarist with Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, helped define the original afrobeat sound. The fruits of their collaboration with Kologbo are yet to be released, but the band told Amplicifador that:
It was a moment that we chose to give our body and soul to — to absorb all that this artist, so loaded with experience, was willing to offer us. Every interaction was focused, so he could teach us the traditional afrobeat style created by Fela Kuti.
The eclectic ensemble has quickly gained a loyal following. Last year, besides a number of local gigs in BH, Iconili performed at the Leblon Jazz Festival, the SESC Pompeia, and Circo Voador in Lapa. They also shared the stage with São Paulo’s Bixiga 70 who, along with Abayomy Afrobeat Orchestra from Rio, are the other leading proponents of afrobeat in Brazil.
Listen to “Tupi Novo Mundo”
Photos: Flora Rajão and Diogo Louzada from Iconili’s Facebook Fan Page