In his book How Music Works, David Byrne of Talking Heads describes how, ‘a more African approach to music making,’ informed the creation of their albums Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues. When it came to Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed stage show that followed, he cast his net even further: deciding to, ‘apply my insights from Japan, Bali, and the gospel church.’ to their theatrical production.
This ‘meshing of a multitude of parts,’ helped Talking Heads’ grooves, musical structures and melodies to develop, strengthening their musical ties with West African music in the process. London Astrobeat Orchestra recognise and expand upon those connections today. The band perform Afrobeat arrangements of selected material from Stop Making Sense, live at Band on the Wall on 27th July, rearranging the widely loved material with the care it deserves.
The group are led by bassist Edd Bateman and include Lingala singer ‘King Fire’, blues rock guitarist and vocalist Julian Burdock, Guinean Griot and kora player Mosi Conde and Senegalese rhythm machine Badou N’diaye.
‘The songs work really well in a West African style and feel quite natural,’ Bateman explains. ‘I think it’s possible to rearrange any well-written song in a different style and make it work, it’s not necessarily down to the instrumentation or influences originally heard.’
He illustrates that point by highlighting Sinead O’ Connor’s version of Nothing Compares, Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower and Amy Winehouse’s Valerie. It’s this positive and open musical attitude that enables him to, ‘take the hooks, vocal lines and essential parts,’ of Talking Heads’ songs and reimagine them, ‘over Soukous, Mbalax, Ndombolo, Zouk, Salsa and Afrobeat rhythms.’
The project has challenged the group, but produced results that have stirred London crowds into a frenzy.
‘When choosing the material to perform I went through all of the songs from Stop Making Sense, deciding which would work in a West African style and which would be the tracks that the audience want to hear.’ Bateman explains. ‘A couple of their songs are just one chord all the way through so the challenge is — before we start singing — how do we make that one chord that we are now playing in a different rhythm, recognisable to Talking Heads fans? The audience have come to the show because of their fondness of Talking Heads so we must ensure to give them something fresh while maintaining familiarity to their favourite tunes.’
Bateman identifies This Must Be The Place as one of his favourite tunes to play live, explaining, ‘it’s quite unlike the other songs from the Stop Making Sense film and we perform it with the sensitivity it deserves.’
They aren’t the only artists currently reimagining the Talking Heads’ material in an African style. Angelique Kidjo, the GRAMMY award-winning vocalist hailing from Benin, has recently released an exceptional album covering Remain in Light in an African funk style, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the band. ‘She’s a legendary singer and has the recognisable name to perform at Carnegie Hall.’ Bateman recognises, but adds that there’s a ‘difference in energy’ between their respective projects.
If you’re familiar with the phenomenal concert film or Talking Heads’ beautifully crafted, early eighties studio albums, then this is a project to check out! Find out more about London Astrobeat Orchestra here.