Rockin' The World

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

If world beat is your thing, head over to Moe’s Alley Blues Club in Santa Cruz on Friday night for a real treat.  There, you can catch Aphrodesia, an 11-piece Afro Beat funk band from San Francisco with a fast-growing reputation for high-energy global dance grooves and consciousness-raising lyrics.  Opening the show is Suco, a 20-member Brazilian drum and dance troupe from Santa Cruz.

The music of Aphrodesia draws its influences from artists such as Fela Kuti and displays a wide palette of musical styles spanning Africa and the Caribbean.  The band believes in raising social awareness, and participated in the “Just Vote Tour” during the most recent presidential elections, visiting swing states and encouraging young people to take part in the electoral process.  Aphrodesia traveled around the country in a vegetable oil powered bus to demonstrate the band’s commitment to the environment and the band was featured on the front page of USA Today.

Aphrodesia was formed by lead vocalist Lara Maykovich.  Her earliest influences were funk, soul and hip-hop, but after graduating in Performance Art from Colorado’s Naropa University she became interested in traditional African and Caribbean music.  In 1992, Maykovich formed Bamboche, Boulder’s first Afro-Caribbean music and dance troupe.  After five years with this ensemble, she spent a year in Ghana and Zimbabwe, studying at various music and dance schools including the Ghana National Dance Company.  On returning to the US she formed Logo-Legi, a West African dance troupe, before traveling to Cuba a year later to resume her studies.

Maykovich moved to the Bay Area in 2002.  There, she met bass guitarist Ezra Gale, who shared her love of African music.  The pair soon recruited more musicians: guitarists Chris Mulhauser and David Sartore, horn players  Marcus Stephens, Todd Grady and Liz Larson, drummer Slipsaw, percussionist Paul Sonnabend and backing vocalists Nicole Rodriguez and Maya Dorn.  The resulting band was Aphrodesia, whose first CD “Shackrobeat Vol. 1” (2003) earned them rave reviews from the local music press.  World Music Review described the CD as “pure dynamite.”  The band has recently released a follow-up titled “Front Lines,” which builds upon the sound established by the first album, adding more English-language lyrics and overtly political content.   Speaking about the CD, Gale said “I really feel that if you’re not singing or talking about something political at least a little bit, you must not be paying attention!”  The songs on “Front Lines” pick as their targets everything from the current government to pharmaceutical and oil companies.

In February, Aphrodesia heads off to Africa, to tour Ghana, Togo and Benin with The African Showboyz.  The tour is sponsored by Alliance Francais, a French cultural association based in West Africa, and band is hoping that the tour will expand to visit Burkino Faso and Nigeria.  One of the purposes of the tour is to promote alternative energy sources, which are in their infancy in Africa.  To show what can be done, the bands will be touring in a biodiesel powered tour bus.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, January 19, 2006

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