Whimsy, however, is nothing new for this band. Born after a series of random get-togethers among friends on a third-floor loft in Chicago, the Project is an ever-morphing collection of musicians. Sometimes there are only seven artists, and sometimes there are more like 14, all of them synthesizing '70s funk with a loud, jazz-infused sound to produce energetic, upbeat music in the vein of Fela Kuti, the politically hip progenitor of Afrobeat.
Afrobeat, for the uninitiated, is a loose combination of Yoruba music, jazz, and funk rhythms, melded with African percussive and vocal styles. Chicago Afrobeat Project's interpretation of the style includes all of the above as well as doses of down-and-dirty Chicago house music. The group typically sports a large percussion section as well as a full horn section and, if you're lucky, a troupe of African dancers.
In 2005, the Project released its first album, recorded on Lake Street in the same loft where the band first hatched. The group quickly realized that the space wasn't much of a recording studio. ("It was our rehearsal space," band member David Glines says.) That fact, as well as the open, airy quality that having recording in a loft adds to the album, reflects the band's improvisational, free-sounding approach. For the project, the band had only "vague ideas about direction," Glines says. "It really didn't start to morph or shape itself until we began editing, overdubbing and adding guest recordings."
These days, the group's core lineup is touring the country and absorbing its surroundings as it fleshes out future directions. "I feel our compositions tend to reflect areas of the country in which we've just traveled," Glines says. "We're about to head to Colorado, so I'm sure the mountains will inspire some new tunes."
Before they get there, of course, they'll stop in Lawrence. What that might mean for an Afrobeat band's sound is anybody's guess.