Antibalas Say Party — or Else!

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Sloane Tanen's Feathers (2008). Photo: Dolores Severson / Retna

In the grand New York tradition that has brought us Italian leather shoes made in Korea and Chinese Mexican food, Antibalas, the Spanish-speaking Afrobeat collective, features only one visibly African-derived member; the dozen remaining musicians seem to represent every other racial demographic. Vive la difference — at last night's concert at South Street Seaport's Spiegeltent, Antibalas packed enough of a wallop to silence any dull questions of authenticity.

Antibalas means "bulletproof" in Spanish, and the group was, in the James Brown way, tyrannically tight (especially for a rebel outfit). The band clustered close together on the small, low stage under purple velvet and gold tassels. The audience — wearing rhinestones, dashikis, dreadlocks, and glitter (though not, sadly, all on the same showgoer) — immediately got active, signifying good times with all manners of dance. The instrumental "Beaten Metal," off Antibalas' latest, the ominously titled Security, made a case for munitions scrap metal being recycled as saxophones; staccato horn punches collided against the beat — party, they seemed to say, or else. Technically, Antibalas are just another postapocalyptic dance band from Brooklyn. Seeing them live, though, felt a little like witnessing the rebirth of a nation.