The influence that Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti had on music is so vast that Brooklyn band Zongo Junction needs 12 members to even get close to the kind of hypnotic, polyrhythmic funk he pioneered. Fortunately, they’ve got their own updated musical bag of tricks to work with.
“We’re trying to channel Fela’s Africa 70 band from the mid-’70s and get that sound on the recording, but a lot of us are also listening to new pop music, so we’re taking elements from that,” drummer Charlie Ferguson says.
Fela’s music was intensely political, inspired by oppression in his native Nigeria. While Zongo Junction delves into social issues on such songs as “Elephant & Mosquito” and “Madoff Made Off,” Ferguson says it isn’t strictly a political band.
“Afrobeat music is obviously a very large inspiration and influence on the band, and it’s historically a very political music,” he says. “Fela was a very political figure, and we’d certainly like to pay respect to that. But we’re not out there playing rallies and protests.”
Zongo Junction plays three free shows in D.C. this week, giving listeners plenty of opportunities to immerse themselves in the group’s sophisticated sound, which leans heavily on its members’ excellent musicianship.
“Most of the guys are coming from a jazz background,” Ferguson says, something that’s apparent in the expert horn arrangements. “Some of the influences we’re drawing from are all the way from deep, grooving reggae music to crazy, improvised, free-jazz music. It’s a giant band with really powerful music.”
In that regard, the band does well honoring Fela’s legacy. With Afrobeat at its core, Zongo Junction’s main goal is to move people — particularly from the waist down.