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Jewish Afrobeat? Why not? Afrobeat emerged from Nigeria while Israel, the homeland of Jewish people, is way over in the Middle East, but culturally, the two countries might not be that far apart: there are those who believe a particular group of Igbos from Nigeria might be a lost tribe of Israel (throughout history, large populations of dispersed Jews became “lost” through forced conversions and cultural assimilation). The documentary Re-emerging: The Jews of Nigeria, currently screening in the States, examines the issue, and points to similarities in Igbo and Jewish cultures. You can read more about it in this NPR article.

Are they really Jews? Who knows? What we do know is that mashing up jewish music and Afrobeat can work, as it does brilliantly in the hands of the 13-piece Jewish Afrobeat band Zion80. The evidence, their eponymous new album.

On the album, this NYC-based band brings together two legends, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (a religious teacher and composer considered by many to be the foremost Jewish religious songwriter of the 20th century) and Afrobeat funk master Fela Anikulapo Kuti (inventor of Afrobeat, producer, arranger, musician, political radical, outlaw and showman par excellence), and explore the music of the former through the lens of the latter.

Thus Carlebach melodies are arranged using the polyrhythmic intensity of Afrobeat, and the result is spiritual, groovy and tight as a drum. Excerpts and one full track below.

Fela’s creation has inadvertently become his gift to the world. You know how you read about the roots of, say Metal, Rock and Roll or Jazz and think, “wow, so that’s where they came from?!” With the way Afrobeat is increasingly being bands from all corners of the globe, and sometimes blended with styles of music, as Zion80 have done, I have a feeling people in the not too distant future will one day read about how some far out new style of music from some completely unexpected part of the world has its roots in Afrobeat, and they too will be going “wow!”.

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