Eufórquestra mixes it up for Mountain Fair
On the band’s new CD, Iowa City septet Eufórquestra is, by all appearances, an Afrobeat band, playing the style of music – a mix of Nigerian chants and American jazz and funk – popularized by the late Fela Kuti.That perception goes all the way to the album’s title, “Explorations in Afrobeat.” If Eufórquestra is a fusion of styles, it is only slightly so, as “Explorations in Afrobeat” mixes Afro-Cuban rhythms into the mix as well. Certainly there are no bluegrass or jam-band strains seeping into the sound.In this case, however, one CD doesn’t reveal the full picture. Eufórquestra’s next CD may very well be a funk album; after that, a reggae record is not unlikely. And consider that, oftentimes, the opening act for a Eufórquestra show is the Eufórquestra String Band, a bluegrass group comprising the same members that make up Eufórquestra itself.It is no extraordinary thing these days for a band to mix a range of diverse – sometimes even radically opposing – styles.
But Eufórquestra is after something unique in their multi-cultural vision. “Explorations in Afrobeat” is, essentially, an Afrobeat album. When they play as the string band, they play bluegrass, using mandolin and banjo. When they get around to a reggae album, chances are good it will sound like an unadulterated reggae recording.”One of the distinctive features of our band is we’re really into learning styles and traditions, really learning them,” said percussionist and singer Matt Grundstad, who joined the founding core of Eufórquestra two years ago, at the University of Iowa. (Guitarist Mike Tallman, keyboardist Eric Quiner and drummer Josten Foley, friends from high school, had started playing together five years earlier, in Des Moines.) “If we’re going to play a style of music, we want to learn how to really do it, rather than play a watered-down, jam-band version, an Americanized version of it. “We all had different things we could bring to the table. I’m into Afro-Cuban music, and I’ve been to Cuba twice. It made a good environment for us all to learn from each other. That allows us to play a lot of different kinds of gigs, in a lot of different environments. Sometimes it’s an educational show; sometimes, it’s just for dancing.”Given the setting, the performance at the Carbondale Mountain Fair at 7 p.m. today in Sopris Park, figures to be heavy on the dancing side. Still, dancer/listeners may get an education is musical traditions. A Eufórquestra show typically features a variety of styles; including Afro-Cuban, bluegrass and Afrobeat.
The band’s first CD, “The Adventures of Glen Devey” – named after the town in Colorado’s Poudre Canyon – was structured much like a Eufórquestra concert. Grundstad calls the album a “sample platter,” with each song sporting a different style.”Explorations in Afrobeat” was a different kind of effort. “This second album, we wanted to put a frame around our picture,” said the 26-year-old Grundstad. “Instead of scratching the surface of a whole lot of things, we wanted to really get into one thing. We decided to do Afrobeat because that’s what we were into at the time. We had a lot of ideas flowing, and that’s what we were comfortable with.”The next album will have a different frame around our picture. And that frame may not even be one genre. Eventually, all the albums together will add up to who we are.”With the release of “Explorations in Afrobeat,” the question the members of Eufórquestra are most often asked is, how did a bunch of white Midwesterners come to play African music? (All the players in Eufórquestra are white, and all but one Iowa natives.)
Grundstad says the question stems from two misunderstandings. One is that Iowa is not quite as white bread as many imagine; the college town of Iowa City, in particular, is quite diverse. Grundstad himself was turned onto Latin jazz by his first drum teacher. Secondly, much of what people think of us African music is actually a mix of styles, stemming from Europe, the Caribbean and even the States. So when Eufórquestra plays Afrobeat or Afro-Cuban, it isn’t borrowing pure African strains of music.”We’re taking two different melting pots and putting them together in our own melting pot,” Grundstad said. “To me, it makes perfect sense that a bunch of guys from Iowa are taking a bunch of different cultures and putting them together.”There is a question here of identity. What happens when a fan of “Explorations in Afrobeat” shows up for a show, and is first hit with the Eufórquestra String Band, playing the songs of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs? Grundstad isn’t worried. He figures that if the band can earn listeners’ attention with one style, they’re likely to hang on for the sharp turns.”We can capture people with the Afrobeat,” he said. “Then we can throw a curveball at them.”I never knew I liked bluegrass till I started hanging out with these guys.”
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