Chronicle of an AfroAlien, Live from Planet Urf. Aliens, Chapter 1: AfrotroniX at SXSW
AUSTIN, TX- Cowboys and Aliens. That’s what SXSW 2019 boiled down to for me. A gathering of the most talented artists from the Texas-Tennessee corridor (the cowboys) juxtaposed against a congregation of musicians from every other corner of this spherical round earth whose abilities are so freakishly compelling that they seem almost extraterrestrial (the aliens). Thus I present:
Aliens, Chapter 1: AfrotroniX
This is music that had to happen. The renaissance of guitar driven Tuareg rhythms that has transpired over the past several years courtesy of Tinariwen, Imarhan, Songhoy Blues, and others has brought a more global consciousness to a sound that has been percolating and simmering for at least 40 years. It’s a sound that carries with it an analog power and velocity that almost demand some sort of fusion with electronic beats.
Bless all creatures large and small that Chadian born Caleb Rimtobaye is at the vanguard of that fusion because he is a maestro of bending the past to toward the future and the future back toward the past. The result is a sound that speaks to his self-proclaimed status as a messenger of afrofuturism. If you look at the history and legacy of that term and listen to even a minute of his music, he can be nothing less than a bona fide herald of the movement. Tracing its roots to Sun Ra’s Arkestra and propelled forth by George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic’s mothership connection, afrofuturism links the continent of Africa and its widespread diaspora to the simultaneously technological and spiritual implications of cosmic voyage. Think Black Panther theme music for those times when T’Challa doesn’t have room for all of Ludwig Goransson’s orchestra to follow him around – just a couple seats in the Royal Talon Fighter for a guitar player and a DJ. That’s AfrotroniX.
I caught Rimtobaye and his percussionist at some dirt bar on 6th that still smelled like the sweaty vegan UT undergrads that would fill it up on a given night. It was an unremarkable space that AfrotroniX quickly made remarkable. Guitar, laptop, percussion. So stripped down and yet filled the room to its sonic and energetic capacities. Rimtobaye dressed head to toe in all white with his trademark headdress that looks like…I don’t know…a quasi-nautilus shape is like a funkadelic plastic man, unleashing on the guitar while periodically leaping over to the laptop to loop a beat or adjust a sound level, all while his turbaned percussionist bangs it out on congas. With his lanky frame on electric guitar, Caleb really does evoke shades of young Funkadelic. With Rimtobaye looking fresh off planet Caleb and his percussionist looking like a desert dweller apart from history, time, and place… I don’t know. It’s like, if you were to throw a house party on Tatooine, this would be the band to blow the roof off.
“What’s the difference,” asks Rimtobaye, “between a body that is dead and one that is alive? From far away, how can you tell…? MOVEMENT – in the body!”
Rimtobaye provides a great lesson for younger musicians who are doing crazy cool shit with computers and sound boards – you HAVE to engage the crowd. He never gets too preoccupied with clicks and buttons and laptop pleasures.
Rimtobaye dances like no one’s watching, he loses himself in the music, but he never loses himself in the room. His relationship with the crowd is as powerful as the music itself. He looks down at the laptop only just long enough to do what needs to be done. Every other moment is designed to build connection. With the crowd, with his percussionist, his guitar, his voice, with the space, with the sound. Ultimately, there’s no distance between you and him because he’s woven YOU into the fabric of the moment and in the moment you can’t NOT move. By Rimtobaye’s own formula, you can’t NOT be alive. Isn’t that the pinnacle of musical performance? Involuntary corporeal reaction. Move your ass. Move until you sweat. Move to tears. Move for love. Move to live.