I never had the urge to try any Chinois cuisine. Heck, I don’t even own any The Jeff Lorber Fusion records. So, AfroBeatles?
In theory, it should be perfect. The Afrobeat drums and bassline combined with the Beatles’ peerless melodies should be a perfect match. But then, you have mixed things like Justin Guarini and funk metal that simply don’t work. Fortunately, Rich Medina’s ears and Mark Hines’ visuals made for an entertaining and enlightening evening. Whether you were there to shake your ass, or to ponder all the social, political, historical and racial elements which made up the mixture of Fela Kuti’s politically conscious dance music and the Beatles’ textured pop music; AfroBeatles at the Levitt Pavilion at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles was a uniquely enjoyable experience.
The inner-city park setting near downtown Los Angeles was the setting for the event. The crowd, ranging from neighborhood Latinos to rare groove/Afrobeat fans to middle aged Beatles fans, enjoyed a cool early September evening with the mash up of Fela’s and the Beatles’ sounds and images. Many in the audience sat and smiled with their families, while a handful gather up closer to the stage to bob their heads or dance along with the dancers on stage.
Rich Medina shifted seamlessly from his Afrobeat DJ set to “Can’t Buy Me Love,” remixed with an Afrobeat groove to start the AfroBeatles event. Alan Mark Lightner added extra beats on percussion throughout the show. Occasionally, a three man horn section would come on stage to add some live brass to amp up the Afrobeat sound. But the highlights for me were the dancers (Miguel Coleman, Anna B. Scott, Jahanna Blunt, and Karen Wong) and Mark Hines’ visuals which added the necessary depth and context to the music, if you were paying attention. The mash up of “Get Back” and “Colonial Mentality” included the visuals of Redcoats in field battles with African tribes, and British inner city cops apprehending immigrants. About half of the crowd in front of the stage paid attention to the visuals, and some of them looked uncomfortable and reflective. The other half of the front crowd simply ignored the visual and danced or nodded their heads. As the visual played and the music grooved, I pondered about British and European colonization’s effect on the world’s culture and lives of people of color. My companion looked a bit surprised, as the visuals made her think about societal issues, even if she did not intend to.
Soon, the mood lightened as Medina moved through Afrobeat fueled versions of “Octopus’s Garden,” “Yellow Submarine,” “A Day in a Life,” and closing out the show with “All You Need Is Love.” During each song, the dancers would take the stage, and on one occasion moved into the crowd to encourage more participation. The visuals for each song included Beatles’ cartoon clips, performances, studio scenes, and Fela’s studio and performance footage. As the evening drew to a close, I noticed many people either dancing or smiling. The music may have been something they have never heard before, but everyone was in better spirits for hearing it. Rich Medina and Mark Hines’ sounds and visuals during AfroBeatles gave the Beatles catalogue groove and a needed new energy. It also introduced Afrobeat and the works of Fela Kuti to many who probably never heard it before. AfroBeatles moved the crowd’s feet and asses, but if you were there and paying attention, it probably moved your mind too.