Artist Spotlight: Afrolicious
A lecture on the evolution of the music of the African diaspora might not usually be your idea of a hot Friday night…but that might just be because you’ve never heard it from Afrolicious! The band mixes their encyclopedic love for every type of groove-based music you can think of - funk, soul, Afrobeat, house, disco - with an equal reverence for electronic DJ club culture to create the most danceable musicology treatise you’ll ever hear. Or get down to. For the band’s frontman and chief visionary, Joe McGuire, class is always in session...
How did you get started with music, and would you say that the roots of Afrolicious were there from the get-go?
My personal musical evolution…yeah, it was all there in the first real band I had when I was 17 in high school. We were covering the 3rd Bass version of Herbie Hancock, and Santana…funk, groove, latin psychedelic rock from the ‘60s, jazz…it’s always been the root of the music I love. The afro root was even in the white blues-rock bands I listened to; it’s always just been the root of my musical DNA, if you will.
Once I got a little older, I got into reggae, latin music, way, way into African music. Then in college I took some ethnomusicology classes, learning more about international music, the travels of the music itself. So I was coming to the music from a studious, historical perspective, but also loving the party. I did the Latin radio show in college, mixed up jazz and funk, certain soulful electronic music, hip hop, whatever. Then I came up with this Afrobeat/disco/house combo in my 20s because I was heavily into Afrobeat, West African music, and had always been into disco and funk. Prior to Afrolicious, I had a band called Pleasuremaker, and today we still play some songs that were in the early Pleasuremaker repertoire. So yeah, it’s always been there.
Afrolicious actually started out as a regular club night party in San Francisco, right, and then evolved into a touring live band?
It started from two different streams; one would be the dance party and the other would be my band, Pleasuremaker. The two things had different looks, feels, and performance styles. The party began almost like a…let’s see…If you could go to school, but the school was a nightclub, and there was no real lecturing, there was just somebody dropping records. And the basis of the subject is the African diaspora, which is the root of almost all pop music - through rock and blues and even jazz.
The party started as a way to pay homage to all this dope music from around the world with an afro root, that broadly has a lot of funky, polyrhythmic elements, percussive elements…the long and the short of it is that if it has the word “afro” in it then it’s funky. Everything that I was following, whether it’s afro-Cuban or funky samba, or West African Afrobeat or it comes from the continent, there’s always kind of a funky, polyrhythmic groove to it.
The music has moved throughout history, and what it tells us as people, as humanity, is a story, and we’re presenting it as nightclub DJs, and adding live players - percussion, horns.
So that history element and the conscious component were the basis of the party. But bringing that together with electronic music, club music, modern day clubgoing and DJ vibe, with the knowledge and respect of where it came from. We came up loving live music, and being musicians, we always wanted to bring elements of that into the DJ culture. And make it more fun when we wanted to extend breaks. Like, the DJs in the early hip hop days would extend breaks, and that’s kinda how hip hop started. We would do kinda the same thing, where we would extend sections of songs and “remix" songs on the fly.
As a band, you’ve got one foot in DJ culture and the other in a love of live musicianship; how does Afrolicious combine the two in your live show?
We're a full live band with horns, super-high energy - but we’re live musicians recreating electronic music, to a certain extent. We bring the tightness and some of the repetitiveness of electronic music…but that comes from African music, and it’s just a human thing, really. Hypnotic, stay in a groove, everyone keeps playing the same thing over and over and over again [laughs]. The deeper you do that, the longer you do that, the more people get into it. It comes from Afrobeat, but also our love of house. So we might not have a lot of electronics onstage, but you’ll feel some of that, along with that super-high energy uplift that Afrolicious is known for, the personality and energy that all the musicians bring.
Bear Music Fest is a music experience that’s deeply rooted in the natural world, given its mountain setting. How do nature and the outdoors influence Afrolicious’ music?
I started going out to the mountains when I was in high school in Kansas City. There are no mountains there, of course, but Colorado’s not too far, so those were my early days of getting deep into the woods. We grew up right when Nintendo and home video games came on the scene, but we were still from that generation where you go outside and play all the time, and that’s where the love of nature started for me. Then in high school and into college, I started spending a lot of time camping, and hiking and backpacking in Colorado and eventually hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail when I was 21.
So for us, playing any of these outdoor festivals…we love to be in nature, just playing outside. We’re all a mixture of urban people who have a spiritual, deeper longing connection in general with the natural world. If Afrolicious could live how we wanted, who’s to say we wouldn’t have a dope piece of land where we grow our own food and other things and have a big community that’s more outdoor-oriented. That’d be a beautiful future. We are of the earth, and that’s part of who we as musicians are.