Hearts of Darkness
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Hearts of Darkness

Kansas City, Missouri, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2008

Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Established on Jan, 2008
Band Hip Hop Psychedelic




"Top Shows: Carnivale du Soul"

Not unlike a promising baseball prospect, Hearts of Darkness has slowly but surely polished its skills in the musical equivalent of the minor leagues. Kansas City’s 15-piece Afrobeat band has succeeded at each level of its development, graduating from sketchy spaces in the West Bottoms to winning over fans at the area’s most respected clubs. It even earned a couple of brief stints in the big time when it opened for Snoop Dogg and kicked off the 2011 edition of Farm Aid. With Carnivále du Soul at the cavernous Uptown Theater, the collective makes a bid for a permanent position in the major leagues. Extensive prospect reports indicate that the ensemble is up to the challenge. - Ink Magazine

"KC’s women musicians: Between rock and a good place"

"It’s no small feat to stand out in an 18-piece Afro-Cuban/funk/soul/hip-hop orchestra, but the ladies of the Hearts of Darkness have become one of its most conspicuous and most appealing elements. Brandy Gordon, Rachel Christia and Erica Townsend joined the band in 2009. “You don’t see many women fronting a band as large as ours,” Gordon said. “We try to bring a lot of energy to the shows. We help get the party started.” They do that by laying down background vocals, taking lead vocals and busting some slick dance moves." - The Kansas City Star

"KC musicians hold their own with national acts"

Fans who get out early to Farm Aid today at Livestrong Sporting Park will see one of our city’s best live bands perform.

The Hearts of Darkness, a hard-grooving funk/hip-hop/R&B/Afro-beat orchestra, will perform a very brief set starting at 1:45 p.m.

The inclusion of a local band is a natural stroke for Farm Aid, which also promotes local farms and locally produced food items at its concerts each year. (Friday night, the local neo-bluegrass/Americana band Oriole Post performed at the Farm Aid Kickoff Party.)

Saturday’s show will be the third time this year the Hearts of Darkness have opened a show for a national touring act. In June, they opened for Huey Lewis & the News at Starlight Theatre; in July, they opened for rapper Snoop Dogg at Crossroads KC. They also played at Kanrocksas last weekend.

The shows gave the band a chance to perform before a large number of people. Even in a big venue like Starlight, they sounded as polished and prepared as a regular touring band. Except they are all folks with other jobs who do the music thing as a hobby, on their own time and at their own expense, because they love it. At the Lewis show, I was asked several times who the band was and where they were from. A few people seemed pleasantly surprised to hear they were from Kansas City.

If you don’t get out and into our local live music scene, you might be surprised to learn that high-quality bands such as Hearts of Darkness perform in our clubs and music venues several nights a week. In fact, this represents a special era for the music scene in Kansas City, when you consider what’s going on here and what’s happening to musicians and entertainers who are from here. - The Kansas City Star

"Review - Farm Aid at Livestrong Park"

Farm Aid is a benefit concert. Its proceeds go to the organization’s programs, which assist family farmers and encourage consumers to buy their products (and not the corporate monolith’s). Performers at the annual concert donate their time, and the entire show is produced with a spirit of benevolence and purpose: Let’s help the little guy survive the giant.

The show lasted more than 10 hours and comprised 16 acts who were paraded on and off stage with almost military-like precision. There wasn’t much lag time between most sets. The sound was generally good. The place looked nearly three-fourths full at its fullest — during Neil Young’s set. (Capacity for soccer is 18,000; for concerts it can be as high as 25,000)

But given the nature of this event, more benevolence is due. Overall, it was a good day marked by some special moments.

Kansas City’s Hearts of Darkness ignited the mood during its short set (about 15 minutes) with its irresistible mix of funk, R&B, Afro-beat and hip-hop. It started plenty of swaying and dancing amid the few thousand or so in the place at 1:30 p.m. - The Kansas City Star

"Hearts of Darkness upstages Snoop Dogg"

The man billed as “The King of Rap” was upstaged and outclassed by a relatively unheralded Kansas City-based band Tuesday at Crossroads KC.

Before rap star Snoop Dogg made a disappointingly lethargic and brief appearance, Afrobeat act Hearts of Darkness displayed boundless passion and energy, qualities largely absent in the headliner’s perfunctory performance. All 15 members of Hearts of Darkness played as if they had something to prove. Backed by a DJ and a couple of hype men, Snoop Dogg seemed to be coasting on past achievements.

Although most of its area gigs are in small clubs, the expansive stage at Crossroads KC suited Hearts of Darkness’ thunderous grooves. The band’s potent blend of African sounds and American R&B and hip hop seemed to acquire additional power at the outdoor venue’s grounds. Highlighted by a five-piece horn section, Hearts of Darkness’ transcendent dance music was dazzling. - The Kansas City Star

"Hearts of Darkness Brings Afrobeat to KC"

James Brown meets Fela Kuti meets Benny Moten meets The Supremes. That’s one description for the hybrid style of a hot new Kansas City big band known as Hearts of Darkness. by Laura Ziegler Kansas City, MO You may have come across the 18-piece dance band at Mardi Gras festivals in the Crossroads and at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. Or at the recent Kansas City, Kansas Street fair.

Hearts of Darkness has been packing dance venues everywhere it goes. And it was nominated by The Pitch Weekly as Best Live Act last year. KCUR's Laura Ziegler takes us inside one of Kansas City's newer musical happenings. - KCUR 89.3FM

"Go Ahead, Try Not To Dance at a Hearts of Darkness Show"

Go ahead, try not to dance at a Hearts of Darkness show

The Kansas City Star

The rehearsal space for Hearts of Darkness is more than half the size of a racquetball court. You could drop a tournament-size pool table in there, too, or play a game of horseshoes diagonally across the room. But even so, it’s barely big enough these days for a Hearts of Darkness rehearsal. The band started two years ago as an eight-piece ensemble that wanted to honor Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. Now it has swelled to 17 members and evolved into a funk/rock/soul/hip-hop/jazz orchestra. When everyone lines up on stage for rehearsal, band members have to watch which way they turn their instruments and swing their arms. They are surrounded by mics, power cords, amps and monitors. Space is tight when your mission is to make a sound that is as large and dense as it is clean and precise. So you keep adding sounds and players to emphasize your point: Make people dance all night.
The beginning:
Bob Asher started Hearts of Darkness with some fellow horn-playing members of the Dirty Force, a local New Orleans style marching band that formed back in the early 2000s. “We never said we were a Fela Kuti cover band, but in the beginning we did do several of his songs, like ‘Everything Scattered’ and ‘Zombie,’ ” said Alex Smith, who plays alto saxophone. “We also rearranged some Fela songs and other Afrobeat songs, which helped us understand how he put songs together.” In the beginning, Hearts of Darkness didn’t have any original numbers. So for its early shows, such as the inaugural performance for Mardi Gras 2008, the band had only about a half dozen numbers in its repertoire. “All our songs were like 15 to 20 minutes long because we didn’t have enough to fill the set,” Asher said. The band was an eight-piece back then. It has grown to its present configuration, gradually. And it is performing mostly original material. Smith, who studied composition at the UMKC conservatory, is one of the principal songwriters/arrangers. The other is tenor sax player Jolan Smith (no relation). Their styles of writing ultimately produce similar sounds, Asher said, but the Smiths come at it in different ways.“Alex is very detailed in his arrangements,” Asher said. “Jolan is looser, less structured, so the band has more room to fill things in.”

At a recent Sunday afternoon rehearsal, 15 of the 17 members were working diligently on two, one-hour setlists for the band’s next show: Halloween night at Davey’s Uptown Ramblers Club. Rehearsals typically last four hours. During show weeks, the band may rehearse twice. “A lot of us spend most of our spare time on this band,” Asher said. “We’re not just a rock band that can learn a song in two or three practices,” Smith said. “Sometimes a song can take two to three months to get.” They attempted one of those more difficult numbers during the Sunday rehearsal. Twice, the performance fell apart in the middle when the horn and rhythm sections couldn’t navigate one of the many irregular turns and changes in the
composition. “We’re not gonna do that one,” Asher said. “We don’t want to (mess) up the middle of the first set.” No one objected, so they moved on to another song, “Terror Flu.” This one, too, is a blizzard of shifting and syncopated rhythms and brassy horn lines dancing atop a deep, funky bass riff and a bed of beats from drummer Sean P. Branagan and congo player Mikael Spears. Everyone sounds in-sync until Asher waves the song to a halt and confesses the horn section is “getting lost in all these rests.” He and the three backup singers spend a few moments choreographing several bars of music — who comes in where, when — and they run through the song again. “You’re getting to see how the sausage is made,” Asher joked. But it’s more like watching someone tune up a luxury sedan.

Rap rhythms:
In summer 2008, Les Izmore saw the Hearts of Darkness perform at the Riot Room in Westport and decided two things: He really liked the band, and he wanted to join it. So he did. “We can’t tell anyone no,” Asher said. His guitarist and softball-buddy, Mark Vick, had a similar experience. “I was joking around with Bob after a show once and I said, ‘You guys need a guitar player,’ and he said, ‘Yes, we
do.’ I was kind of hired on the spot.” Izmore’s admission into the band has changed its dynamics significantly. A local rapper, he has given the band a frontman, a showman, a lyricist and a vocal arranger. He also brought in the band’s trio of backup singers: Brandy Gordon, Rachel Robinson and Erica Townsend.
More than just a rapper fronting an Afro-funk band, Smith said, Izmore is “the showman none of us could ever be. His main thing is hip-hop but his idol is James Brown, so he brings some of that into the mix. He also arranges the vocal parts not just for himself but for the backup singers. So he’s not just a performer, he adds a compositional element, too.” His work for Hearts is different from what - The Kansas City Star

"Back to Rockville Review: Hearts of Darkness"

As the big players in the music industry try to figure out how to survive the implosions around it, life at the other end is percolating nicely. If big-show ticket prices are too high for you or you prefer venues that are more intimate than an arena or amphitheater, your local music world usually has something for you, especially on the weekends. Saturday night was one of those nights in Kansas City.

The choices were several and varied, including Extra Classic (reggae/soul) and Tommy Ferrari & the Future Motor Machines (rock) at the Czar Bar; a Radiohead tribute at the Record Bar; and a burlesque revival at the Folly. All local; all worthwhile.

The evening's grand finale was at Crosstown Station, a few blocks south of the Power and Light District, where the Hearts of Darkness threw a birthing party for the 18-piece band's self-titled debut album. The room, which holds about 300 people, was nearly full by the time the main event arranged itself on stage. This evening, they had grown by one: bassist supreme and special guest Jeff Harshbarger stood in on electric guitar. Talk about gilding gold and painting the lily.

Their set lasted more than two hours and it showcased a band that presents itself as a fierce and fine-tuned machine playing a bristling and percussive mix of Afrobeat, jazz, funk/soul and hip-hop. Its founding influence is Fela Kuti, the father of Afrobeat, but throughout the night, they evoked and insinuated other sounds, genres and influences: James Brown, OutKast, Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Talking Heads. A friend suggested another: the Cuban jazz ensemble Irakere.

HoD's music comprises many moving parts, each with its own discrete design and purpose, yet its arrangements never get jammy or overwhelm the music's primal mission: to lay down a groove that will make a big crowd dance, seemingly involuntarily at times. You almost have to concentrate on not moving to prevent yourself from responding to the groove.

Saturday's performance showcased songs from the album "Hearts of Darkness." The album, recorded in analog, is warm, organic and dynamic. Live, those songs jump to another level of muscle, might and ebullience. This crowd was familiar with some of the older material, jumping in fervently on some call-and-response lines ("I want my mind back / I want my time back ...'). But even during the new songs, the enthusiasm in the room remained high.

Les Izmore, the band's rapper/lyricist, is the outboard motor that revs this band into a higher gear, with help from his three up-front backup singers/dancers, Rachel Christia, Brandy Gordon and Erica Townsend. Throughout the night, but especially on the two infernal closers -- "Shelf Life" and "Space Age" -- they and the seven-piece horn section shared and traded lines, executing an impressive choreography of vocals and instrumental riffs and lines.

It was easy to watch the entire two-hour show and feel like this is a band that could easily jump into some heavy regional or national prominence, one that could absolutely steal the show at a jam band festival, for example.

And until trumpet player Bob Asher thanked band members' families and significant others for tolerating all the rehearsal time, it was also easy to forget that HoD is a collection of appreciative local musicians with day jobs who do this for the love and thrill of it, surrounded by fans who are also neighbors. The big boys in the music industry ought to take note. Shows like this is where long-term loyalty begins.

Timothy Finn, The Star
- The Kansas City Star

"Local album review: Hearts of Darkness"

It’s about time that Kansas City Afrobeat powerhouse Hearts of Darkness put out a record. For fans of the band’s undeniable, ass-shaking performances over the last couple of years, it’s overdue. The self-titled debut also makes for a pretty great introduction to the 18-piece band’s oeuvre, for listeners who are unfamiliar. The six songs represent the energy and enthusiasm of the band’s grooves, influenced by Afrobeat iconoclast Fela Kuti. Hearts of Darkness is still evolving, and the band’s debut record presents an interesting hybrid of African influences, classic funk and soul, jazz and hip hop. One welcome aspect of the record is that frontman Les Izmore’s rhymes aren’t swallowed by the grooves surrounding him. While seeing HoD live is always a treat, and Izmore is enjoyable to watch, the added intelligibility of his rapping here is welcome. For the most part, Izmore’s lyrics tend toward the socially conscious and timely. The song “Space Age” takes on multiple issues of living in a disappointing “future,” and “Debt on Me” calls out the out-of-control consumerism that helped bring on the credit crunch. As heady as those topics may be, the album never feels overly heavy. And the songs maintain the swagger that makes the band so appealing live. Plenty of astounding musicianship appears throughout the record. Some especially enjoyable call-and-response in both the vocals and the music make it just as easy to sing along as shake your booty. While the record doesn’t match the fervor of the band’s live performances, listeners who want a Hearts of Darkness fix between shows will find a strong debut from an astounding live band. This album is easy to recommend, and it will leave many listeners enthusiastic for more. - Ink Magazine

"Hearts of Darkness"

Killer funk with a definite Afro style – a wonderful big band from the KC scene, and just about the freshest thing we've heard to come out of that city in a long long time! The grooves are super-tight, but never uptight – and although things start in Fela-type territory, they quickly stretch out to embrace a range of funky modes – using some especially sharp horn charts to carve out some rich new territory, and mixing in these great funky moments at the bottom of the rhythms! Vocals are by a few different singers, which further keeps things fresh – and you can definitely rank these guys right up there with the best of the contemporary Afro Funk scene! - Dusty Groove America


Still working on that hot first release.



Hearts of Darkness makes you dance.

Hailing from Kansas City, Missouri and Lawrence, Kansas HOD has been forcing feet to move, hands to wave and minds to think with Afrobeat, jazz, funk, and hip hop infused sound collages since 2008. This collection of rhythm section masters, vocalists, and horn players shared the stage with artists such as Seun Kuti and the Africa 80, Shabazz Palaces, Snoop Dogg, Joc Max, Deejay Platinum, Emcee Reach, Radkey, Ozomatli, Making Movies, Las Cafeteras, Gio Chamba, The Roots, Chance the Rapper, Del the Funky Homosapien and Huey Lewis and the News...... Consistently recognized as an outstanding live ensemble that puts it all out for every show, the band pulls in fans of all ages, cultures and musical tastes. Hearts of Darkness looks to continue rocking stages throughout the Middle of the Map and the whole planet as the group introduces you to its awesome sauce culture party.