Afrotronix broad­casts Afro­tur­ism

The band fuses elec­tronic mu­sic to Tuareg blues and African rhythms

The McGill Daily - - Front Page - Glo­ria François Cul­ture Writer

Last Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 20, Afrotronix performed at the Phi Cen­tre, and I had the chance to at­tend this won­der­ful event.

Founded by the renowned Cha­dian gui­tarist Caleb Rim­to­baye, Afrotronix first performed dur­ing last year’s edi­tion of AFROPUNK Paris, which is a fes­ti­val cen­tered around afro- punk mu­sic. Afrotronix’s art, in­clud­ing mu­sic and dance, con­sists of an ex­quis­ite fu­sion be­tween the tra­di­tional and the mod­ern. The group’s goal is to re­de­fine the mean­ing of Afrobeat while pre­sent­ing “a new Africa,” which they ac­com­plish by mix­ing African rhythms, Tuareg blues from Sa­hara, and Mandingo mu­sic from West Africa with elec­tronic mu­sic.

L.teez., based in Tio’tia:ke (also known as Mon­treal), is the young rap­per who opened the set. His per­for­mance was dy­namic, tex­tu­ally bril­liant, and filled with emo­tions; his mu­si­cal­ity and rap­ping skills blew the au­di­ence away.

Af­ter this in­tro­duc­tion, Afrotronix started its set in front of ap­prox­i­mately 150 amazed peo­ple. I was taken by sur­prise by the in­ge­nu­ity with which the mu­si­cal for­ma­tion blended tra­di­tion and moder­nity by uti­liz­ing var­i­ous artis­tic medi­ums. In their song “Sinon le pays va tomber” (Oth­er­wise the coun­try will fall), tra­di­tional chants were smoothly mixed with the fu­ri­ous rhythms of Afrobeat, cre­at­ing groovy mu­sic that made the au­di­ence dance fu­ri­ously.

Through­out Afrotronix’s en­tire set, three dancers performed tra­di­tional dances on the fu­ri­ous and cap­ti­vat­ing rhythms of a re­newed Afrobeat. Star­ing down at the au­di­ence, the dancers hyp­no­tized the at­ten­dees with their sharp and smooth move­ments. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a third Afrotronix mem­ber would join the two oth­ers on stage with his djembe, and set fire to the scene by per­form­ing beats that I did not think were hu­manly pos­si­ble. The visual spec­ta­cle was equally stun­ning. Var­i­ous im­ages and mini- clips were pro­jected — some showed peo­ple danc­ing, while oth­ers showed styl­ized se­quences of sound wave pat­terns.

To­wards the end of their set, Afrotronix in­vited Sene­galese singer and song­writer Sey­d­ina to per­form var­i­ous songs he wrote for his soon-to-be-re­leased de­but al­bum. Dur­ing this part of the per­for­mance, Sey­d­ina made the at­ten­dees sing, charm­ing them with his im­pres­sive stage pres­ence and voice. Sey­d­ina con­trib­uted to Afrotronix’s pro­ject of rep­re­sent­ing the strong cul­tural bond link­ing coun­tries of the African con­ti­nent, while giv­ing place for its di­verse voices to speak up.

Afrotronix used art to make a strong state­ment and to present a “new Africa” while de­mys­ti­fy­ing its cur­rent mis­rep­re­senta- tions. Be­tween the two parts of their set, the mu­si­cians played an in­stru­men­tal while cre­ator Caleb Rim­to­baye ad­dressed the au­di­ence and dis­cussed the dis­torted ways in which the African con­ti­nent is per­ceived in West­ern so­ci­eties. Rim­to­baye ridiculed pop­u­lar stereo­types such as the one that states that all Africans al­legedly look at pieces of wood and wor­ship them. Af­ter show­ing the absurdity of such a be­lief, Rim­to­baye con­tin­ued by stat­ing that it was time for the African con­ti­nent to be given its right­ful im­age, and pro­posed his afro-fu­tur­ist pro­ject in the visual and mu­si­cal clash­ing of past and present. Caleb Rim­to­baye’s speech was warmly re­ceived, and on the cheers of the au­di­ence, Afrotronix pro­ceeded to re­al­ize Rim­to­baye’s words and Afro-fu­tur­is­tic prom­ise.

Afrotronix’s per­for­mance res­onated with Afro- Cana­di­ans in the room while also ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple who were not aware of how dis­torted their views sur­round­ing the African con­ti­nent were. As a Cana­dian born to Haitian par­ents, I par­tic­u­larly re­lated to Afrotronix’s mes­sage. West­ern per­cep­tions of Africa and Haiti are sim­i­larly dis­torted. When I was younger, I re­mem­ber be­ing told by sev­eral of my teach­ers and peers that Haiti was and had al­ways been a poor coun­try. How­ever, as I started re­search­ing and fre­quently ask­ing my par­ents what their mother­land was like, I re­al­ized how dis­con­nected this per­cep­tion of Haiti was. In fact, as ex­plained by Roger An­nis in a let­ter to The Daily ( is­sue 7), Haiti’s present state is the re­sult of cen­turies of im­pe­ri­al­ism, en­slave­ment, coups, up­ris­ings, lib­er­a­tions, and neo- colo­nial in­debt­ing caused by West­ern pow­ers, in­clud­ing Canada. Haiti, like many other col­o­nized coun- tries, is cul­tur­ally and his­tor­i­cally vi­brant, but has been mis­con­strued through colo­nial vi­o­lence and era­sure. In de­bunk­ing myths sur­round­ing Africa, Afrotronix man­aged to re­late to ev­ery peo­ple whose moth­er­lands and/or par­ents’ moth­er­lands are sim­i­larly oth­ered and mis­rep­re­sented.

Us­ing dif­fer­ent art forms in the space of three hours, Afrotronix man­aged to give the African con­ti­nent its right­ful im­age, and it was sim­ply won­der­ful.

The group’s goal is to re­de­fine the mean­ing of Afrobeat while pre­sent­ing “a new Africa.”

Sey­d­ina [one of Afrotronix’s guest singers] con­trib­uted to Afrotronix’s pro­ject of rep­re­sent­ing the strong cul­tural bond link­ing coun­tries of the African con­ti­nent, while giv­ing place for its di­verse voices to speak up.

Rim­to­baye [stated] that it was time for the African con­ti­nent to be given its right­ful im­age, and pro­posed his afro-fu­tur­ist pro­ject in the visual and mu­si­cal clash­ing of past and present.

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