|Page 2 of 2 <|
Nomo could have been a school project gone wrong:
A University of Michigan jazz studies grad falls head over saxophone for West African music, particularly that of Fela, the Nigerian superstar who spearheaded the Afrobeat music of the 1970s. The grad then starts his own Midwestern edition of an Afrobeat band to explore sounds far removed from his own upbringing.
But rather than coming across as a pale cultural appropriation, Elliot Bergman's Nomo is one of the tightest, swingingest Afrobeat world-jazz bands on the planet. The nine-member-strong group -- three percussionists plus three saxophones, trumpet, guitar and bass -- checked into the Rock & Roll Hotel on Wednesday and proceeded to wreck the room with irresistible grooves, punchy horn-ensemble blasts and a likability factor that's off the charts.
"Nomo is the word for music that keeps bad spirits away," Bergman told Detroit's Metro Times in 2005. There were no evil ghosts in the hotel, just the good guiding spirits of Fela and Sun Ra (especially the latter on the rackety groover "Rocket #9").
From the opening distorted kalimba sounds of "Better Than That," which recalled the Congolese group Konono No. 1, to the meditative closing tune, which was played in the middle of the audience for an intimate chant-along, Nomo brought a variety of influences to color in its Afrobeat template, from Balinese gamelan percussion to blaxploitation film funk.
Playing a 70-minute set that easily could have gone on for three hours, Nomo worked the half-full club into a dancing frenzy. While nothing got out of hand -- if it had, the parade of police cars circling the block outside would have nipped it in the bud -- the crowd did whip up into a hands-in-the-air fever that momentarily dispelled the District's arms-folded music-scene reputation.
-- Christopher Porter