A few days ago I had the opportunity to check out Zongo Junction live, and it was amazing. We haven’t finished going through the pics from the show yet, but I wanted to get a little write-up posted about it. So I’m giving you the chance to hear their latest single, “The Van That Got Away.”
When the group first got in touch with me, I was a little anxious. On one hand I was excited that a band outside of my usual comfort zone would seek me out-but I was nervous because I am not very knowledgeable about afrobeat music. At all. I’m one of those people, though, where if it sounds good I like it. I don’t want to get too bogged down by genre specifics. If you aren’t aware of what afrobeat is, it’s kind of like psychedelic funk jazz with some salsa thrown in. Fela Kuti is the most popular name associated with the style, but for a more bluesy-and vocal-version you can check out Amadou & Miriam.
In the email I received about the group there was a video link, and within thirty seconds of seeing the video I knew I wanted to see them live. Zongo Junction is a 11-piece group consisting of multiple saxophones, trumpet, trombone, guitar, bass, drums, keys, and percussion. They might be the only band from Brooklyn I hadn’t heard of before the email, but I think their name will be much better known in the months to come.
The thing about any kind of instrumental style is that it seems to come into style and go pretty quick. Remember the resurgence of funk when Swingers came out? (no you probably don’t because I’m old and assume that everyone gets my references) If not, let me tell you it was ridiculous. I’ve never heard Average White Band played at more parties than the spring and summer of 1996. Here’s the thing though. The band that really got big off that movie, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy-they’re still making records. Enough of the audience has hung around because they make good music. I think that’s what will happen with Zongo Junction-they may not sell a million records, but people are going to turn out to see their shows because they play amazingly well together and you know going in that you will have a good time.
The show I saw was at The Empty Bottle, and I’ve never seen it hopping like it was for Zongo. I’ve been there when it’s packed to the gills for some of the great bands they get, but the energy in the audience was crazy and people were dancing. DANCING! And I don’t mean just a few drunkards out of their wits flailing around, I mean for real swinging and stuff. I’m not much of a dancer myself, but even I couldn’t help but shake it a little bit, safely hidden in the dark corner where no one could see.
To single one performer out of the 11 would be foolish. They all played great. From my vantage point I can say that the guy playing bass made every song look effortless. And the drummer and percussionist matched each other beat for beat and kept it tight. There was also one guy, forgive me for not knowing the names, who acted as emcee. He was a funny guy, especially his sales pitch about everything they had for sale: “If you guys but everything tonight, then those suckers in Madison get nothing!”
I had a great time. It was refreshing to hear music that I normally wouldn’t. For whatever reason I don’t seek out a lot of jazz (or instrumental anything, really), so maybe that will change. I know this-I’ll definitely be looking for any new releases by Zongo Junction. That includes this new single: