Afro-Ecstasy 

The beat goes on, even at the Solano County Fair.

It's not just your grandma's and kid sibling's Solano County Fair anymore. This year, the annual Fun Fest, held at the SC Fairgrounds in Vallejo, is hipper, cooler, and bursting with cutting-edge music from a variety of different genres. Such as Afrobeat, the pulsating, throbbing variant of jazz-funk pioneered by Fela Kuti, whose legacy has been furthered by the music of SF-based Aphrodesia. "So far there's been a lot of great bands who sound more or less exactly like Fela Kuti -- and what's the point of that?" bandleader Ezra Gale says. "I think if Fela were still around, he would be more pleased to see bands who started with what he originated who then put their own stamp on it."

That's just what happened on Aphrodesia's new album Frontlines, which shows tremendous growth from its debut, Shackrobeat. This time, the band went for -- and attained -- what Gale calls a "bigger" sound, while crystallizing its message and focusing its musical direction. "While I love our first record, I'd have to say this one is more of an artistic statement," he says, noting the inclusion of both more overtly sociopolitical commentary and English-language lyrics. "I really feel that if you're not singing or talking about something political at least a little bit, you must not be paying attention!" Just as importantly, after touring nonstop the past two years, the band's sound has jelled. "I think we're all on the same page now in a lot of ways where when we started the band we were just a bunch of people who happened to play music together," he says. Ultimately, he feels that keeping the music progressive is "the only way for Afrobeat to be relevant and keep growing as an art form, instead of ending up as a museum piece from the 1970s." And though Aphrodesia has clearly learned its way around the studio, the band is positively ecstatic in a live setting like tonight's SCF gig, where it'll be the featured attraction, performing two sets, at 7 and 8 p.m. Free with fair admission ($4-$8). For more information, visit Aphrodesia.org or SCFair.com

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