Henry Cole & The Afrobeat Collective at Mayne Stage | Concert preview
Puerto Rican percussionist siphons Latin rhythms into his stylistic amalgam.
Afrobeat has been retooled to the extent that a lot of what’s out there wearing the label wouldn’t register as such to fans of Fela Kuti. Henry Cole, a gifted drummer working the fringes of the genre, might take that as a compliment, a sign he’s doing something right. Whether the music he makes with his Afrobeat Collective is recognizable to purists is beside the point. He’s attracted to the freedom offered by the platform, broad enough to sustain instrumental passages rooted more in the bomba and plena rhythms of his native Puerto Rico than anything originating in Nigeria.
The in-demand percussionist has entrenched himself in the New York scene over the last decade, navigating the nexus of jazz and Latin music, and he folds those influences (along with seemingly everything else he’s ever encountered) into Roots Before Branches, the debut from his Afrobeat Collective, enlisting hotshot peers like saxophonists Miguel Zenón and David Sánchez. Cole’s stylistically porous collection taps every possible source from funk to electro, occasionally veering into the sort of polished fusion that leads less disciplined players to show off their chops rather than service the song. Yet Cole’s unbridled enthusiasm ultimately makes his hyper-syncopated ensemble a rewarding proposition. The band makes its Chicago debut as part of the second annual Afro-Caribbean Improvised Music Festival, which should be a perfect fit, aligning Cole with an audience hungry for his pulsating amalgam.