Occidental Brothers: Live Last Night

Occidental Brothers

Live Last Night

By Mark Jenkins

Horns are less prominent in African pop than they once were, but they rule Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, which performed an engaging set Thursday night at DC9. The quintet's percussive timbres -- including the bell-like guitar typical of West African music -- provided a bustling yet sturdy footing for frontman Kofi Cromwell, who alternated between vocals and trumpet, and Greg Ward, who played alto sax and added some backing vocals.

The Chicago-based, multiracial Occidental Brothers are among the contemporary bands creating a new sort of African American music. Cromwell and drummer Daniel "Rambo" Asamoah hail from Ghana, but despite the musicians's disparate origins, their alliance never sounds like a novelty act. (Well, almost never -- the group's version of New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" was more a stunt than an interpretation.)

The arrangements's intricacies were mostly reserved for the rhythm section, which shifted tempos and time signatures exhilaratingly. Everyone but upright bass playerist Joshua Ramos played percussion, and even guitarist Nathaniel Braddock showed a flair for cowbell that belied his stiff stage presence.

Atop the polyrhythms, Cromwell and Ward sang and played pleasantly old-fashioned melodies that recalled Afropop's debt to Cuban jazz. Such numbers as "Akwaaba (You Are Welcome)" might have sounded at home in a supper club in pre-Castro Havana. Occidental Brothers is actually an indie-rockers group, playing small clubs where band peddles CDs and T-shirts after the show. Onstage, though, Occidental Brothers conjured a very danceable alternate reality.

By David Malitz |  July 17, 2009; 3:37 PM ET Live Last Night
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