The Superpowers is a group of 12 musicians dedicated to continuing the tradition and spreading the message of AFROBEAT music. This society hopes to bring together young and old through music and dance to continue the AFROBEAT vision for social revolution. The Superpowers strive to create a communion -- where people of all backgrounds can unite in collective musical energy and dance, and spread awareness of the political and spiritual messages which fuel the music.
The band, for all intents and purposes, is simply not a band,more a commune of musicians (did we mention that there are twelve of them?), united under the banner of Afrobeat—the multilayered sonic fusion of funk, jazz, and traditional African tribal music, fueled by a “revolutionary consciousness.” The group strives not to act as a band, but an actual society—the model for a better one, or a living breathing active microcosm.
If this sounds heavy-handed, then you probably haven’t heard Adam Clark, drummer and founder of the society in question. A graduate of the New England Conservatory, Clark doesn’t just talk about his music following the group’s live set, he never stops playing it. His words fly off his tongue in rapid succession, rhythmic in their free-form flow, jumping from one idea to the next in musical progression, just like the layered sounds and dance-inducing backbeats of his soulful Afrobeat groove. “One of the things we’ve been trying to do is keep the Afrobeat essentials,” he says, “and work our own melodies and ideas into that and improvise with the forms of the songs.”
His enthusiasm is as manic and precise as his playing, especially when discussing clave, the driving rhythmic pattern and time signature that has roots in traditional Yoruban music, a precursor to the modern Afrobeat sound. “It’s pretty nodal, and sticks to one basic sound,” he says of the basics of the genre. “But that’s where the clave comes in. It locks everything together. There’s so many parts happening, and they’re all simple parts, but they interlock in a way that creates this huge orchestration.”
It’s this human side to the music that carries its inherent theme of revolutionary consciousness. But The Superpowers is an instrumental group, and only sabar player Samba Cisse is of African descent. The origin of the genre itself is attributed to African revolutionary Fela Kuti (a.k.a. the Black President). The group nevertheless maintains this socio-political edge (and keeps it sincere—these are all well-educated, articulate people after all), as it’s simply what inspired the music in the first place.
It’s just inherent, Clark says: “We’ve got ten to twelve people playing on stage. It takes a lot of listening, and you have to put your ego aside. There are solos that happen, but in Afrobeat, everybody is essentially a percussionist. And you’re really trying to play that one part, one way, meditating on that one part. It’s very essential that each person does their one thing to contribute to the greater picture of the song. Even though when you hear the music and it sounds very complex and there’s a lot of sounds going on, it’s really just a bunch of people working together, doing very simple things. And I’m not here to preach, but I think that translates to what society may have to do to really make some changes.”
(Parts taken from a WERS interview with Jon Meyer)