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Unforgettable, Afrobeatable Music | Zongo Junction Takes Over Nectar's, BVT | July 2011

Photography by Olivia Vande Griek

Zongo Junction

Afrobeat has, in the past decade, resurfaced as a powerful means of musical exploration, whether you refer to Trey Anastasio’s first solo release or with the mash- up craftsmanship of Toubab Krewe, polyrhythms, and the use of classic West African instruments, or even people simply becoming more interested in the sound and seeking out the innovators of it, most of whom peaked in popularity in the 1970s. However, can it really be called a resurgence of afrobeat? Did it really get the spotlight it deserved in its first years of development? Fela Kuti wasn’t wholly recognized for his creations until recently, often by the young Brooklynite postgrads. Still, it’s never too late to acquire the penetrating rhythmic oscillations of afrobeat, which is where Zongo Junction comes in.

When the rhythm section takes the stage at Nectar’s, the stage is already full: dual guitars, bass, drums, and percussion. This is only half of Zongo Junction, and the rest are horn players, who hop on halfway through the intro jam. They rush out into the audience and zip on stage in single file. The stage is now packed with the Brooklyn-based afrobeaters, and the first song is a Fela Kuti cover. The bandleader is Charlie Ferguson, an incredible drummer with an inviting smile as he ties the levels of music together behind the kit. Their set of mostly originals come off their EP, Thieves!, and is a clear and intentional nod to Kuti.

Zongo Junction

Saxophonist Raffi, with long curls and sunglasses glistening, for a couple of songs leads the horns, hovering above them with some frills. The entirety of the horn section is stellar, from Jonah Parzen-Johnson’s bari sax to Joe Hartnett’s alto. Their originals are sincerely afrobeat, but also funky and at times rocking. Jordan Hyde and Pavel Kogan- Liakhov lay down complex and catchy guitar work, alongside Matthew Downey’s cowbell jitters and Aaron Shafer-Haiss’ congas create the base for a lot of playing around with crescendos and breakdowns. At one point, Zongo transforms their sound into a roots reggae skank, Noah Garabedian’s bass kicking it up. A band’s energy is reliant on its conversation with the audience, but Zongo Junction have so many people in it, and each player is integral, so that they build up the energy among themselves, absolutely excited to be playing with one another. Because of that, the Burlington audience, that had never seen Zongo Junction before, can’t help but feel like this group is a staple to the weekend. The familiarity created in the room is incredible. The band is incredibly welcoming and humble.

Charlie is tucked back behind 11 other people, but between songs he grabs a mic, stands, and offers his humble gratitude, especially for the group of women, dressed for summer in dresses and heels, that initiated the dance party.

With all the instruments working together, the sound is great in the room. Nothing is lost, but it is too loud. Why even mic a 12-piece ensemble playing their hardest that don’t have a vocalist? It’s a little much.

Zongo Junction

Eli Sundelson, the quietest and most reserved player in the Junction, is a great keys player, rounding out the sound with a beautiful organ shuffle. Let me also mention Aaron Rockers on trumpet and Kevin Moehringer on trombone, two guys that offer wonderful solos. As much as the horns blend, each player is excellent in his own right.

Yes, this is the Zongo Junction experience, a great live band. They encourage dancing and community, playing off one another and the audience. The time put in to making the operation run is apparent. Their album is beautiful, their website easy to use, and their music, while being a throwback, is, as said, a resurgence of a music steeped in community, playing off one another, and in using strict parameters to break rules and make something worth hearing. Great show.


 

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