Friends of Tropical Diaspora, these are exciting times for Afrobeat. Fela Kuti’s legacy is very much alive. More and more bands around the world are embracing the extraordinary musical and political contribution that Fela Kuti left for us, from the Chilean Patagonia over Warsaw all the way to Japan. One of the last bands to join Fela’s enthusiasm is Underground System, a truly multicultural band born in 2010 in the melting pot of New York, also the home ground of one of the greatest Afrobeat bands ever, Antibalas. (It’s about time to have an extensive vinyl of the week dedicated to them).
For Underground System is not just the Afrobeat aesthetic important, but far from it there is a straightforward political message that can be read in their songs. Texts that are expressed, played and conveyed in the universal language of Afrobeat. From this point of view Underground System are truly inheritors of Fela’s struggle. And they aren’t shy in describing themselves in the best manner: “A few phone calls and some chance meetings set the stage early on for where they are today: 10 core members deep, split equally between gender, representing too many cultural backgrounds to list, and boasting one of the most naturally enthralling live shows around. The energy the band exudes is confident, raw, and uninhibited, inviting every audience to lose themselves in the moment.”
Underground System goes back to one of the releases of Fela Kuti’s late career with the band Egypt’80. In the song Fela says that he has songs for all great African names, but also for the biggest African thieves. Fela says that despite corrupt African leaders attempt to protect their crimes in an Underground System supported by the Western powers, they cannot kill the ideas of unity and freedom that Nkrumah, Lumumba, Nasser, Sankara, Mandela and many others helped to spread.
New York-based Underground System draws on that. In their last single release “Bella Ciao” they rework an old Italian partisan song as Afrobeat anthem. “Bella ciao” was sung by the anti-fascist resistance movement between 1943 and 1945 and almost immediately became a revolutionary internationalist hymn.
Having “Bella Ciao” mixed with a strong Afrobeat rhythm, it clearly means to bring together two revolutionary traditions, European and African, fighting the same old imperialist enemy. From the Americas an old European revolutionary anthem is sung with African urge, you have it, Underground System!
Underground System – “Bella Ciao”
And Fela Kuti – “Underground System”
Underground System – http://undergroundsystembk.com