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Meet Me at The Junction: Zongo in Full Swing

photos and article by John Powell

This is Zongo Junction: Charles, Jordan, Pavel, Noah, Morgan, Aaron, Adam, Jonah, Joe, Kevin, and Ross. Here’s what they do: Afrobeat. The big band sound comes from, well, a big band, and the Brooklyn-based ensemble is readying the release of their second album early next year.

Their first was Thieves!, a hard hitting shout out to old school Afrobeat vibes, blended with the NY-driven urgency, and two years later, the band enters an evolution of sound. The pinnacle of which can be found with “The Van That Got Away”, a single available for free download off their website.

Zongo Junction

Arriving at the club and soundchecking, Zongo Junction is on tour with Soul Jazz Orchestra, a Canadian band with similar Afro-funk vibes. Heading into the green room, the members of Zongo Junction fan out on the balcony, like an army of musicians. Adam pulls out Bananagrams and dumps it onto the table- perhaps the best pastime when you have 20 minutes before your set.

They may not be partying hard, but Zongo is gearing up for a nationwide tour, and so they’re pacing themselves. We’re all around the table now, and Charles, drummer and the ringleader of this band of brothers, reins the group in for an interview. “Hey guys,” he says; “Let’s do this.”

And this seems to be Zongo’s motto.

Talk to me about this resurgent Afrobeat sound that’s been happening for the last decade.

Jonah: We’re a part of that. We’re in debt to guys like Antibalas that worked hard to pull Afrobeat to that level. In that movement there are flag bearers, say, “There’s this great history of Afrobeat that you should be listening to,” and there’s people like, “Afrobeat is an incredible place to find inspiration, but push the envelope,” and we’re there, not to preserve Afrobeat. We’re here to expand it.

Charles: I was first exposed to [Afrobeat] when I was living in California, where I grew up, to Fela Kuti and Sunny Ade. I had the idea to start this band with a friend of mine from the New School. We talked about getting the band together, and never did it. I went to Ghana, studying music. I was further exposed to the music over there. I got back and was like, “I got to get this band together. I’m loving this music right now.”

Tell me about this upcoming album.

Charles: We recorded at The Bunker, in Brooklyn, the same studio we recorded our first record in, although the studio has since moved to a bigger space.

Jonah: We use this studio because we can record to 2” tape, so we recorded the whole thing in analog. We did two days of tracking, and then we’ve been working on post- production. We have one single done!

How’d you pick “The Van That Got Away" as the first single?

Jonah: It’s a new direction, how we’re looking at our relationship to writing music and playing Afrobeat. We feel it shows a nice stepping-stone to our audience. As we’ve been writing as a group, we realize all of us have different interests, and we wanted to find a way to incorporate multiple genres of music, while still keeping that danceable Afrobeat vibe. This song incorporates noise and experimental jazz, but it still has an infectious Afrobeat sound to hold it together.


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