Occidental Brothers Dance Band International
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Occidental Brothers Dance Band International

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Apr
17
Occidental Brothers Dance Band International @ Empty Bottle

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago, Illinois, USA

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Music

Press


"This disc convinces me that the greatest African dance band on the planet this year hails from Chicago."
-Norman Weinstein, The BEAT vol 26 no 3

Best World Music Group, 2008
-Chicago Reader's Best of 2008

"One of ten must-sees at the Pitchfork festival: a blend of Chicago and West Africa, with the dancefloor as common ground."
-Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune 20 July 2008

"Pitchfork Festival - Sunday's Best: Many fashionable rock bands count themselves fascinated by the polyrhythms of classic West African pop, but scant few have the chops to pull it off convincingly. This Chicago band doesn't try to tame this beautiful music with Western ornaments but instead offers up respect through authentic interpretations and originals. A dance band for the thinking man."
-Matt Lurie, TimeOut Chicago, 17 July 2008

"No band in Chicago can play West African dance music like the Occidental Brothers."
-Tony Sarabia, Radio M, Chicago Public Radio 17 July 2008

"A horn section that sent the pre-dominantly indie-rock crowd back to the drawing board"
-Venus Zine 28 July 2008

"The band blends Central and West African dance beats with elements of jazz and underground rock, creating a vibrant musical cocktail for dancers in the July sun."
-Drew Fortune, Chicago Social July 2008

"There have been a lot of bad highlife, rumba and African salsa revival bands, particularly synth-based ones in the mid-80s, but the Occidental Brothers pull it off. The guitar work is spot on and they lay on some subtle effects to get that 1960s recording feel to the music as well."
-Matt Yanchyshyn, Benn Loxo du Taccu, 24 March 2007

"You could easily believe the tracks on this very sharp cd were recorded in Kinshasa or Accra years ago rather than quite recently in Chicago...OBDBI offer up simply stunning instrumentals recalling the golden ages of rumba, highlife and other African styles"
-T. Orr, World Music Central, 12 May 2007 - various


"Magnificent" Carol Cooper VILLAGE VOICE

"The most musically expansive acts were often the most thrilling. The Chicago-based Occidental Brothers Dance Band International played a winning amalgam of Ghanaian highlife and rhythmically inventive post-rock." Jon Caramanica NEW YORK TIMES

"Audience members had to pull themselves from the enticing polyrhythmic sounds of the Occidental Brothers Dance Band" Jim Fusilli WALL STREET JOURNAL

"They've really got it" Banning Eyre, ALL SONGS CONSIDERED podcast - various




Growing up in Michigan, Occidental Brothers Dance Band International guitarist Nathaniel Braddock, determined to discover music outside the mainstream, extended his search far overseas—eventually stumbling onto the music of West Africa. Up to that point, Braddock had immersed himself in underground rock (The Smiths, Sonic Youth, etc.), so the first time he heard African pop he was caught off guard by how different it sounded.

"I was just starting to play guitar and I was struck by the technique," says Braddock. "It was a single note pattern and there were usually single guitars interweaving. They weren't just banging out chords."

Unfortunately, the Midwest wasn't exactly a hotbed of activity for someone interested in world music—especially in the mid-'80s—and early searches were often fruitless. This was, says Braddock, a good ten years before there was even a resurgent interest in Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Discoveries were rare; the guitarist would unearth records digging through bargain bins and searching library stacks. In college, he developed a friendship with a professor from South Africa who let him dub a couple of third-generation cassettes.

Braddock's first experiments with the music were as much a struggle as locating the source material. "In the early days I wasn't good at it," he says bluntly. "But I listened to enough of the stuff that it became an influence on my style even when I wasn't trying to imitate it."

Eventually, the self-taught Braddock began teaching a class in African guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music and has since gone on to study with some exceptional African musicians. Indeed, much of the crew's new album, "Odo Sanbra (Come Back, Love),"—they'll celebrate its release with a show at Empty Bottle Friday—took root after a January, 2008 trip to Ghana. There Braddock performed everywhere from the city's night clubs to the streets.

The swinging new tunes are a testament to how far the band has come from its early days banging out obscure covers by Congolese artists like Mwenda Jean Bosco and Bantous de la Capitale. Part of that growth can be attributed to the addition of Ghana natives Kofi Cromwell (vocals/trumpet) and Asamoah Rambo (trap drums), who performed together in Western Diamonds, a celebrated highlife band in Ghana.

"The president [of Ghana] would send cars to pick up Rambo because he just wanted him to come to the palace and hang out," says Braddock. "They were big, big stars. [Being in the Occidental Brothers] is a really different experience. I think they get frustrated sometimes, but they're excited. They're excited by the potential." - Chicago Tribune


In its early days the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International played mostly covers of vintage African highlife and soukous, but this Chicago combo has moved beyond that kind of slightly fetishistic homage—now its repertoire is packed with original material. The group’s emphasis naturally shifted toward highlife when Ghanaian expats Kofi Cromwell (vocals and trumpet) and Daniel Asamoah (percussion) joined a few years ago, and it’s since emerged as a strong live act that can get all sorts of crowds on their feet. Each member seems comfortable carving out his own space, a development that allows guitarist and bandleader Nathaniel Braddock and saxophonist Greg Ward to shine—rather than clinging too carefully to the conventions of an adopted genre, they let their backgrounds in post-rock and jazz flavor their playing. OBDBI has attracted lots of attention for the cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” on its new second album, the self-released Odo Sanbra (Braddock says the tune follows a chord progression popular in a kind of Ghanaian highlife called sikyi), but to my ears it’s the record’s weakest moment—even transplanted into a new style, it’s just a crappy, cloying song. Cromwell had never heard it before, so his vocal performance is mercifully free of self-conscious gimmickry, but I still like the band a lot better when it sticks to its own stuff. Algernon and DM Stith open. —Peter Margasak - Chicago Reader


Extra Golden & Occidental Brothers Dance Band International
By Brent DiCrescenzo

The cultural rise and hipification of Afro-pop has been well documented over the past year. Frankly, we’re tired of reading about and mentioning Vampire Weekend every time a completely unrelated Malian or Senegalese act passes through town (this is the last time, promise). Overlooked in hype surrounding indie’s appropriation of polyrhythmic drumming and soukous guitar licks are, you know, musicians actually from Africa who are cooking up similar Western pop fusion.

Extra Golden and Chicago’s Occidental Brothers Dance Band International both feature a mixed membership of Americans and Africans. Ian Eagleson, an ethnomusicologist, and Alex Minoff started off as dueling guitarists in Oberlin, Ohio’s Golden. The muscular post-math-metal-jazz-whatever instrumental quartet developed quite a cult with insane live shows and pummeling prowess. In 2004, the two traveled to Nairobi, hooked up with local benga players and formed a new group, seamlessly weaving the “extra” Kenyan style into show-offy workouts.

Thank You Very Quickly, the hybrid band’s third LP, cranks up the amps a tad too much. Flashy, overwhelming prog-rock drumming smothers any subtlety in the six snaking songs. Something about juxtaposing such heavy, Neil Peart–like kit work against endless soloing emits an unwelcome air of the Allman Brothers. EG’s really working the wrong circuit—these are jam-band nugs, bro.

Old Town folk instructor Nathaniel Braddock has no such issues with his more nuanced and organic quintet, Occidental Brothers. Asamoah Rambo’s dense, subtle hand percussion breathes under fellow Ghana expat Kofi Cromwell’s sweet tenor. Greg Ward’s rich sax breezes throughout, and guest fiddler Andrew Bird lubes up tear ducts on the tender “Mafiwo.” You might not understand a syllable of Cromwell’s Akan dialects, but these are clearly love songs. So much so that a cute cover of New Order’s aching “Bizarre Love Triangle” slips seamlessly into the repertoire.

Both acts are best experienced live. Lucky for us, the better one lives in town.

Occidental Brothers hit the Empty Bottle on Friday 17. Extra Golden does the same on Monday 20. - Time Out


Discography

Occidental Brothers Dance Band Int'l (s/t, 2007)

Odo Sanbra, "Come Back, Love" (2009)

both titles distributed by Thrill Jockey Records

Photos

Bio

Chicago’s Occidental Brothers Dance Band Int’l plays classic Central and West African dance music—specializing in soukous, Highlife, Rumba, Dry Guitar, and other delights from the great continent. The multi-racial band mixes their backgrounds in traditional African music, jazz, and underground rock to bring these classic sounds to life. The group has been winning over a diverse audience of listeners, dancers and rockers, and causing a buzz among established African music critics (the Chicago Reader's Best World Music Group 2008)! Word of the group’s electrifying live shows is spreading as they play sold-out shows with Afropop legend Oliver Mtukudzi and art-pop superstar Andrew Bird. The group recently played another sold-out show in March appearing as a featured group in Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music’s Afrofolk series. Other featured appearances include the 2008 Pitchfork Festival, 2009 GlobalFest at Webster Hall in NYC, and Chicago's Millenium Park.

The band began by covering the songs of Congolese greats Mwenda Jean Bosco, Franco, and Bantous de la Capitale, and their debut cd features many of these tunes. Now the group is writing original songs that incorporate their mastery of the old style with the singing of Ghanaian Kofi Cromwell. Kofi sings in a haunting mixture of English and his mother tongue, Twi. The cd is distributed by Thrill Jockey. They are at work on a new record featuring concert favorites and new original songs that fuse classic Highlife sounds with the group's unique voice.

Guitarist Nathaniel Braddock leads the group. Braddock teaches African guitar at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and is a veteran of Chicago’s jazz and independent rock scene, playing with Ancient Greeks, Edith Frost, and the Zincs. Braddock is joined by Greg Ward on alto saxophone. Ward is a rising star of Chicago’s jazz scene, playing with Hamid Drake, Ernest Dawkins, and the Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble. Handling trumpet and vocal duties is Kofi Cromwell of the much-celebrated Western Diamonds (voted Ghana’s best highlife band three years in a row). Fellow Western Diamond Daniel “Rambo” Asamoah brings his energetic style to the traps and hand drums. Josh Ramos, who has spent years on the Chicago jazz scene and dazzling crowds with Liquid Soul, brings the groove on the upright bass.