North American Afrobeat bands have had a difficult time defining strong vocal presences. Their beats may be deep and funky, but Fela Kutis signature vocal style can sound contrived coming from the mouths of North Americans. Torontos Mr. Something Something have come up with the entrancing blend of melody and spoken word on their excellent new disc Deep Sleep, featuring Afrobeat poet Ikwunga.
Their challenging horn charts emphasise jazzy modality alongside the creative use of traditional percussion; these guys are far from JB-style horn riffs over a shaker punching out the beats. They are visually dynamic as well, from their New Orleans-style street parade entrances to the engagement of the crowd by vocalist Johan Holmqvist and dancer Jennifer Dallas.
Holmqvist has developed into a fine front-man over the last few years. "I didnt come from a background in Afrobeat, he says. "I came from a background of music with chord changes, and having that help create a melody. For me as a vocalist, the main challenge has been to write interesting melodies for this modal music. On this album he is the chorus and vocal sparring partner to Ikwunga, who hails from Port Harcourt, Nigeria but resides in Baltimore, and it was Ikwunga who sought them out. "I was coming to Toronto in 2005 and I checked on a website of Afrobeat bands worldwide. I was fascinated by the innovation of the band. I was hearing Afrobeat that wasnt cover-like and wasnt a big band, just fresh and original.
Their collaboration has broadened the MSS sound even further. Ikwungas measured baritone brings elements of beat and dub poetry to subjects ranging from politics to mental illness. Ikwunga beams about the quality of the collaboration and future possibilities for all. "Theres already a buzz about Mr. Something Something in Nigeria. The level of production really captures how Afrobeat poetry should be recorded. Theres some [Ghanaian] highlife, theres deep bass that sounds like dub, its tremendous.