Bowery Poetry Club
The Juan Maclean
Matt Tinari’s not my kid or anything, just an old high school friend who played in old high school bands and did occasionally pretentious shit like smoke cigarettes or call Gambia “The Gambia” or yell at people for putting milk in their coffee–“DUDE! you’re corrupting the bean.” Either way, so nice to see him get in on this Zozo Afrobeat crew, legit, bloodlined, etc., headed up by Fela- and Sunny Ade- alumnus Kaleta, who runs that Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble out these parts too. For Matt, groove was/is the be-all/end-all of music, afrobeat the be-all/end-all of groove; once I gave him a Microphones album, just to see what he’d do. What he did was leave the States, move to The Gambia, and live for two years with a bunch of drummers in a mud hut.
For Zozo, Matt plays claves–those two wooden cylinders, one bigger than the other, you bang them, it makes a round but high and taut percussive sound. A bum gig you think, until you remember Tony Allen got his start that way, and if you believe the lore, the clave rhythm is the backbone and soul of any given afrobeat song, salsa too. Music so loose, so polyrhythmic and lascivious, needs a straight man; the clave clicks, whether simple sixteenth couplets, or something more complex or just implied, play that role, keep the song in line. Such pressure–certainly more than playing “Land of a Thousand Dances” after the football team scored touchdowns.
“Get Up Stand Up” was first, a bright-eyed afrobeat take, coulda been gimmicky genre translation except that the detailwork wanted more attention. Matt threw down a pair of sixteenths right on the top of the beat, so the clicks align with the vocal melody perfectly: GET UP, STAND UP, chich chich, chich chich. The lyrics have staled from overexposure and dorm room posters and fratty misappropriations, which is why the clave part seemed so massive–reinserting the original rhythm’s defiance, belligerence, and with that the force of the words. And since the rhythm sticks throughout the song, no change-up, that belligerence remains an undercurrent: get up, stand up, get up, stand up, get up, stand up, get etc..
Compare that to Fela’s “Water,” Zozu’s next jam and certainly my favorite on ES. (Though I’m convinced this is dabbler talk, along the lines of calling the Beatles a great band or saying how much you love grey New Balances.) This song Matt kept the clave clicks on the upbeat, (WOOSH) chich-chich (WOOSH) chich-chich, etc., dictating new headnods and hip swivels with just one minor alteration. Makes you wonder to what extent the drumming can be so intense without the clave holding steady– “nothing without water,” and it’s sorta like that.
Later that night at Don Hill’s, the Juan Maclean filled in last-minute for Vitalic, who had cancelled on Dave P and Justine D’s consistently great Night Time party. It wasn’t Juan Maclean the band, who would play the day after in Brooklyn, just four dudes and four synthesizers, teasing the floor with minimal thumps and clicks and squiggles, refusing to drop the beat, stuttering more when the breaking point neared. No worrying about these claves, a soulless soul–too bad, no embarrassing stories to tell about them either.