Manchester-based afro-funk outfit Agbeko launch their fantastic new EP Unite at Band on the Wall on Friday night, joined by two fine Manchester acts in the shape of Bethlehem Casuals and Lychee. Ahead of the show you can stream and purchase their brand new, six-track release via their Bandcamp page and read our introductory report on it, below.
Unite is a strong and assured statement from a young band who play with conviction! When combined, its six tracks reach just under thirty minutes in total and demonstrate their social and political sensibility, talent, energy and confidence, through the musical and lyrical ground they cover.
The EP opens with Innocent (La La Lie), its most faithful homage to ‘70s afrobeat with an arrangement as replete as Fela Kuti’s Water No Get Enemy, but a brisker tempo and sharper production quality than heard on that track. Its lyrics lambast hypocrisy and discord and its structure takes it seamlessly from section to section, allowing for a fine trumpet solo later in the piece courtesy of Illiam Quane.
Hurt Me So begins with gentle sweeping Rhodes keyboard, the first of a few hallmarks that link it a close sonically to a Philly soul ballad than an afrobeat epic; further indication of the group’s diversity, with lyrics addressing tension and expectations within relationships, possibly in a grander sense as well.
Despite a complex time signature, Where the wires cross maintains a breeziness and finds the group taking things down a notch or two, allowing vocalist Ellern Lewis to pull focus, with lyrics like “Nothing will change without us crying out” furthering enforcing their desire for change in society.
James Girling’s solitary electric guitar introduces the album’s earnest title track and recurs with a wah-laden solo later in the piece. The lyric “we will not endorse this government, we are the 48%” sung ensemble by the group and decisively punctuated by horns and drums provides further indication of the group’s political persuasion.
The solo saxophone interlude For Getatchew swoops to the depths and rises to the heights of the instrument’s dynamic range, before crashing into the slow upstroke rhythm of Albert’s Loss, its whirring transistor organ riff and prominent percussion from Matt Brown give the track a woozy Ethiojazz feel, similar to that captured by bands like Black Flower and The Heliocentrics. Caitlin Laing’s baritone sax steals the show mid-track, before several shifts in the groove drag the piece expertly through rockier territory. Drummer Phil Steventon cuts loose as the closing track crescendos and the EP draws to an emphatic close.
All sounds considered, the EP is an accomplished and well-balanced work that will hopefully introduce them to international audiences, which they’re sure to continue impressing from festival stages for years to come. Listen to the release below and get your launch party tickets here.