Extra Golden: “Thank You Very Quickly”
Given the big splash Vampire Weekend made in the indie rock world of 2008, you’d think fusing Afrobeat rhythms to American rock was some brand new thing. It’s not, of course, though Vampire Weekend did bring a certain effortless ease to their music that may have made it all seem fresh and new again. In truth, though, American rockers have been experimenting with African forms for decades– just think back to alternative godfathers like David Byrne and Peter Gabriel, or globally-aware punks like The Clash, for proof that the east-meets-west conceit is far from original to the indie scene in the late 2000s.
But if it isn’t anything new, it also isn’t anything that’s seen its reservoir of possibilities depleted, and, given the expanded audience of world fusion in 2009, that makes it the ideal time for a new album from Extra Golden, the half-American, half-Kenyan outfit that has been integrating Western rock with Kenya’s benga for several years now. And a new album is what we have– their third, to be exact, titled Thank You Very Quickly— but a post-Vampire Weekend exercise in African-American integration this is not. Unlike what the “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” rockers (or just about any other world-conscious indies in 2009) are doing, Extra Golden isn’t about synthesis; they’re about collaboration. They’re genuine, pan-global integrators, and they don’t graft African rhythms on to American forms– or vice versa– so much as bring the two together to meet in the world, creating a sound so seamless, it’s hard to tell where one culture ends and the other one begins.
It’s the kind of sound they’ve always tried to create, but only now have they realized it in its purest state. Thank You Very Quickly is the sound of four ace musicians locking into one tight groove and riding it through six muscular compositions, full of hairpin rhythmic turns, benga’s propulsive, jazzy chord sequences, and riffs nicked from American rock and funk. Between the incredible, tight full-band interplay and the bilingual lyrics, it sounds and feels every bit like the meeting of two distinct traditions and cultures that it is, with each side receiving equal footing. The album was recorded in the laundry room of member Ian Eagleson’s parents’ house, and you can practically hear the close quarters in the band’s dynamic communication and improvisation. Opening song “Gimakiny Akia,” at nearly eight minutes in length, establishes the blueprint that the rest of the record follows: Rolling, circular drumming meets cocky guitar licks and a bleating Farfisa organ somewhere at the crossroads between indie and stoner rock, but with the ebullient, propulsive energy of benga at its heart.
So confident has the band become that they’ve actually begun to draw even more flavors and styles into their benga-rock marriage; the second song, “Fantasies of the Orient,” adds even more organ and swirling guitar work– along with mystical lyrics, sung in English– to create an effect that borders on psychedelia. That said, the album’s heart still feels very much like it’s in Africa, even if some of the attitudes feel more America; benga is a form known both for its joyful energy and its political awareness, and both of those are on full display here. “Ukimwi,” sung in a Kenyan dialect, is a poignant prayer that transcends language barriers by the sheer, open-hearted compassion of the music; it’s a plea for the end of AIDS, a disease that took one of the band’s founding members before this recording was made. And the title song, which closes the album, is a rollicking, hooting-and-hollering celebration, a bilingual song of thanks to American friends and listeners who have supported the band through tumultuous times in Kenya.
And indeed, tumultuous times may have surrounded the album’s creation, but it finds a common strength in both rock and benga traditions– a joy in the face of adversity, which comes through loud and clear on these spirited, celebratory compositions. Thank You Very Quickly is many things, but chief among them is a triumph of soul and rhythm, an album of unrelenting energy and momentum that can’t help but translate its joyful movement to the listener. And easy though it may be to highlight bravura performances from the individual band members, what makes it work is the uncompromising unity with which they play; Extra Golden might build their music from two very different sets of building blocks, but what they end up with is the glorious sound of commonality and collaboration.