Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra really packed the people in to the partitioned Crescent Ballroom on Sunday night having easily more than 200 people arrive ready to dance for their fifth show ever, and their first since June.
The group, which describes itself as a "musical collective," consists of 14 musicians--and among the 14 musicians there are about 20 other bands represented in the group, including Cheri Cheri, Drunken Immortals, Zero Zero, Playboy Manbaby, Spirit Cave, The Sweet Bleeders, and quite a few more.
"How amazing is it that afrobeat brings us all together like this?" said bass player Merrick Wright, one of the only members who described PAO (pronounced POW) as his main project. The afrobeat brought more than just PAO together, however--as with any great Phoenix show the music community came out in force to support. Out in the crowd Phoenix music figures like John Luther of The Haymarket Squares, DJ Shane Kennedy, and Stateside Presents honcho Jeremiah Graza were dancing the night away in the packed house.
"That makes a big difference, when the crowd is just as hyped as we are and dancing the whole time and screaming and hands in the air--that's just amazing. We needed that energy," says vocalist Andrea Benell, also of Phoenix House Music Allstars. "The crowd was awesome; it was fun to hear everything and see everyone and introduce some new material," added drummer David Marquez, also of Spirit Cave and The Sweetbleeders.
The night got going with some DJ sets by the band's keyboardist, Yojimbo Billions, then the bongo player Jason Pope, and then right before the band percussionist Melissa Waddell. The DJs played a wide selection of EDM, world beat, Afrobeat, and other funky dance tracks from a set up on the floor of the venue. But it did not seem like the room really started to cut a rug until PAO brought their huge sound to the stage.
PAO played an hour-long set of afrobeat standards like "Water Don't Get Enemy," and "Tears of Blood," by Fela Kuti, "Progress" by Tony Allen, and "Somakosa" by Manu Domingo.
The music was upbeat and easy to "shake a tailfeather" too which was the direction front woman Camille Sledge continually gave the crowd, and the audience listened. "This guy walked up to me, greay hair gray bead ,and said 'you got a fat old irish man up dancing, thats a hard thing to do'" she said. While Wright shared what he said was the best compliment he has ever received from an audience member "I can't stop dancing."
Though the band created the notes they were not willing to take all the credit for the wonderful sounds coming from the stage. "Crescent is the best venue in town, and has best sound guy in town. I could hear myself in every note," said Baritone saxophone player Chris Molder. The band was so impressed with the sound guy that they toasted to him, Joe Aslin, following the show.
The band also brought up some guest performers including Sledge's mother who happens to be the lead singer of Sister Sledge, as well as flutist Allen Jones and closing DJ DJentrification throughout the course of the night.
For all the fun and dancing though the members of PAO hope that their music conveys a bigger message than just partying. "It's about humanity and it's about what are the things that are wrong in our society and can we do to fix them," said Marquez. "It's not just about us it's for the community for the La Raza humans. We are all around the world and afrobeat is a music that can reach out to people. There are things that need to be talked about that are not easy sometimes. But when your dancing and you hear about it there is a message that sometimes maybe, just maybe, we can make a little difference."
The band is currently working on original material as well as releasing a 45 by record store day. Their next performance will be opening for Lymbic System at The Crescent Ballroom on January 4.
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"You play music your whole life and you're always looking for that one thing and sometimes you hear something and you know that your life is going to change if you follow that path and I've been trying to make this happen for a few years, this is hard work and we did it,"said Marquez.