Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shakori Spotlight: The Brand New Life

The Brand New Life performs on Thursday, Oct. 10
on the Meadow Stage at 5:00 pm
I can barely contain my excitement over how close Shakori is. It seems like just yesterday I was packing up my mud-covered belongings and saying goodbye to the farm, but here we are just under a week away from the fall festival. One of the things I love about Shakori Hills is the simultaneous focus on local and international artists, and thankfully sometimes we can get a little bit of both wrapped up into one badass outfit. Take The Brand New Life for example, though the band is based out of Greensboro for the time being, they wonderfully encompass a new brand of Afrobeat styling. Though their rhythmic focus is rooted in West African traditions, they've got a dance-oriented groove that makes for an irresistible live show filled with soaring horns and funky guitar lines.

The Brand New Life is comprised of a crew of self-described "band kids" that cut their teeth in an educational setting, but quickly developed an addiction to rhythmically focused music. "The band started off as this conglomerate of sounds that we had all picked out independently," bassist Seth Barden claims. The group would get together for improvisational jams at their friends house and all of a sudden these various influences would morph into something special. Though they describe their music as Afrobeat-Fusion, there's clear elements of jazz, funk and dance music that shine through in different elements of their songs. While Barden was off studying jazz and European Classical at school, other members found their way into different genres. But The Brand New Life aren't a band that defines themselves by titles, they're clearly about the music.

"We take liberties and bring in a lot of rock and dance influences," percussionist Daniel Yount states. "We throw in some odd meters and some interesting melodies and harmonies. So if someone comes in expecting a standard Afrobeat band then they'd be pleasantly surprised. They'll get Afrobeat, but they'll also get a lot of unexpected twists and turns."

"Rhythm is really a unifying factor in our music more so than genre," Barden says. "A whole confluence of music can have roots in West African rhythm and harmony. As we started arranging tunes with horns it naturally evolved into us wanting to explore rhythmic ideas while putting on cohesive arrangements for live shows."

This explains a lot about the live experience with The Brand New Life. The band wastes no time in setting into a compelling groove, but by the time you've found yourself vibing and dancing along they've gone and switched it up to an entirely different style. That gnarly saxophone riff you were digging just somehow morphed into a funky bass line which gives way to a ridiculous drum solo. As soon as you begin to marvel at the precision and technique that one band member displays you find yourself transfixed on another element of the music. Which quite frankly is an awesome problem to have.

Bands like this are pretty hard to come by, even in an area as musically rich as North Carolina. Our state just simply doesn't have an Afrobeat scene, which is unfortunately one of the reasons that Shakori Hills will be the last show The Brand New Life plays in North Carolina as residents of the state. They'll be moving up to New York City shortly after the festival to immerse themselves in an established scene of African-based music. But the band still acknowledges the firm foundation that they've set within the state.

"It's been really interesting for us," Barden says. "It's given us a great opportunity to reach out to a lot of different musicians. We reach out to bands whose music we really enjoy, but there's always a lot of stylistic differences. With a rock or pop band you can run down a venue calendar and say 'oh we could play with that band, that band and that band. We've had to go out of our way to create interesting and exciting bills."

Surely enough they've found a way to do so though. The first time I saw the band outside of Shakori--which feels like the perfect setting for this band by the way--it was with The Bronzed Chorus and Casual Curious. An aggressive post-rock act and an electronic dance group. But strangely enough it worked, because the shows that these guys would put together all have some sort of thematic similarity. There's a strong focus on rhythms and grooves, they're all speaking the language of music but they're just approaching it with a different dialect.

"We've gotten in front of a lot of different looking crowds with a lot of different looking bands," Barden states. "A lot of these people have never heard music like ours." But alas, there's not really a market for African music in our state. Sure folks like myself and the devoted crowds of Shakori will dance to it until their bodies collapse, but places like New York have built-in crowds that are specifically seeking out this kind of music. But as Barden and Yount point out, there's a long line of transplanted North Carolina musicians that have found success outside of the state. Some of the greatest jazz artists of all time in John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk and Nina Simone were all North Carolina residents at one point. However, sometimes the state just can't contain it all.

While it's going to be sad to see The Brand New Life leave the local scene, there's no better way to send them off than with a Shakori set. They're releasing a brand new EP at New York Pizza in Greensboro on Oct. 4 and they'll be opening up the festivities at Shakori Hills on Thursday, Oct. 10. So do yourself a favor and check this band out while we can still call them locals.

The Brand New Life performs on the Meadow Stage at 5:00 pm on Thursday, Oct. 10
The Brand New Life Recommends: Orgone on the Meadow Stage at 11:00 pm on Friday, Oct. 11

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