Music News

Abroad Jump

For all its cross-cultural posturing, world-beat is still very much an American concept. The Bonedaddys, the current leading exponent of the genre, are ample proof. The eight-man band from Los Angeles does stew up some interesting blends of Caribbean, Latin American, and African music, but the meat of the soup is rich with the homegrown ingredients like blues, funk and soul. You only need catch the Bonedaddys live to realize that the music is a foregone conclusion of melting-pot America.

"I see us with a rock 'n' roll attitude," Michael Tempo, the group's founder, says. "Our shows are pretty much rock 'n' roll in that the songs all have the wild edge and are experimental."

Yet, the Bonedaddys' sound certainly isn't conventional rock. It's nearly impossible to put one simple musical tag on their snaking rhythms, melodic harmonies and gyrating guitars. The band's music is a combination of sounds that find their roots in the musicians who make them. "I've always had a lot of African records in my collection," Tempo says. "In a way, I was always into world-beat."

Tempo, who is every bit the percussionist his name implies, courted a more worldly sound with the pre-'daddy Burning Sensations, a group he landed with after migrating from Kansas City to Los Angeles. Burning Sensations premeditated the thrust of the Bonedaddys, he says, and the band peaked with the minor hit "In the Belly of the Whale" before disbanding in the early Eighties.

Tempo then formed the Bonedaddys in 1985, bringing together musician friends with a wide variety of interests. The group immediately garnered a following on the Los Angeles club scene, dominated then as now by heavy-metal and punk. "I think we kind of filled a void," Tempo says. "When I first came out, there was nobody to play percussion with, except for in jazz. And L.A. is definitely not a jazz town."

The group soon built a reputation as a party band renowned for its nonstop live performances. Yet, even with its good-timey sound, the Bonedaddys' music spoke of a novel experiment taking place--an experiment that would integrate music in the true doctrine of world-beat. But the definition of the sound was blurred at first as record and programming executives latched onto the term as a marketing ploy. World-beat became a truly American notion--outright capitalism.

"When we first came out, world-beat was really big in San Francisco," Tempo says. "But a lot of those bands calling themselves world-beat were just playing one type of foreign music, like African. Our idea was to hop around the globe. When our record came out, they said we were world-beat, and we didn't fight it. It is a marketing term, but it does describe our music."

Some commercial success was, of course, the hope for the group's debut, A-Koo-De-A. The album came out in 1988 and showcased the band's growing interest in developing an international sound: The tunes were laced with Caribbean and African influences, but were poppy enough to catch the American ear.

The LP was also timely, coinciding with a public awareness toward music of different cultures. Efforts by Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel--both of whom delved headfirst into African rhythms--and Paul Simon's pop-filled experiment with South African music on Graceland helped such awareness. A-Koo-De-A was equally adept at pushing down doors into new rooms--only those rooms were filled with a raging party. The centerpiece of the work is "Soul Makossa" (a 1973 Top 40 hit by Manu DiBango), a song to which the Bonedaddys added a bit of rock, taking the tune's unique rhythms to another level.

Which is where the band's second LP Worldbeatniks picks up. Here the band finds its sound rooted firmly in America. There's even a cover of Elvis Presley's "Crawfish," which opened the film King Creole. The tune, fueled by Kevin Williams' swanky vocals, is soul food, New Orleans-style. Then there's the Latin-tinged "Jokenge," which, with its wailing guitars, is reminiscent of Santana during that band's Abraxas phrase. "Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah," on the other hand, shows off the band's poppishness, filled as it is with Platter- and Coaster-like harmonies.

But it is the funky, horn-filled "Yes They Do" that hopefully shows where the Bonedaddys are heading. The song does come dangerously close to the bravado of rap, but at times has a big-band feel. It is without a doubt the most far-reaching Bonedaddys song to date, and it's full of surprisingly politically taut lyrics, such as "These are the days of trouble and pain/Equality is just a game."

"To me, the song is about politicians saying one thing and doing another," Tempo says. "There are statements to be made. If you are going to call yourself world-beat, you better have some world concept. You can be a good-time band, not a mindless one."

The Bonedaddys will perform at Chuy's on Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18. Show time for both concerts is 9 p.m.

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John Pacenti