Monday, July 25, 2016

Polyrhythmics & Atomga Bringin' That Afrobeat Fire

This 10-piece Afrobeat dance band is comprised of musicians from a variety of other Mile High City bands who joined forces four years ago to create intoxicatingly fun dance music for the masses. Several members of ATOMGA sat down with AXS to discuss their history and pre-Thanksgiving show in this exclusive interview.

AXS: What brought ATOMGA together?
Casey Hrdlicka (guitar): We all loved the style of Afrobeat and felt that not too many people around were doing it, let alone had even heard the style of music, so we thought it would be a great vessel for creating original, unique sounding music.
Frank Roddy (tenor saxophone): Expanding on Casey’s answer, we all strive to keep a strong Afrobeat foundation while creating a modern sound.
Alice Hansen (trumpet): Aside from the love of playing Afrobeat, which was a huge motivator, I joined Atomga because I love playing in bands with musicians from different backgrounds, and not just a shared college degree. Once I started meeting everyone in the group it became clear to me that this was a band that functioned without relying on the cynicism/ego of so many of those different musical projects. Everyone approached Atomga with a sincerity that I still feel is completely unique to this band, and to me it made it clear that this band would keep growing as a group, and that I would have the freedom to grow as an individual musician within it.
Leah Concialdi (baritone and soprano saxophone/flute/EWI): As far as the formation of the band, I think Casey once described the band coming together as “a long series of connections over a long period of time.” Frank and Casey knew each other from Friends of Red Rocks and conceptualized starting an Afrobeat band in Denver. From there, everyone came together whether it had been playing in previous groups YEARS ago, Craigslist, colleague recommendation and we got our newest members from watching them crush in other groups that we had shared bills with before. When we had vacancies, we knew exactly who we would call.

AXS: How long has ATOMGA been together? What have you learned during that time?
Casey: Four years. Patience and creativity.
Frank: During the past 4 years together, I feel we have learned how to create, record and perform as a team who truly cares about each other.
Alice: I’ve learned how every person in a band grows to fill a particular role, and how important each member’s presence is at any rehearsal/concert.

AXS: Where was your first show in Denver, and what was the experience like? Who else did you play with at the show?
Frank: Quixote’s supporting Buntron Smith who recently morphed into Sol Authority.
Leah: The first show with the bulk of our current members was Cervantes’ Fall Down Fest in September 2011.

AXS: Have any Denver musicians inspired ATOMGA?
Leah: Stylistically, The Motet’s first few albums really highlighted the new advent of Afrobeat music and they got the ball rolling getting those types of spellbinding grooves on the forefront of the Denver scene. Their Halloween shows have also shown that you can adapt pop, soul, funk, and beyond for this type of ensemble. Euforquestra is also a band that has been around for awhile playing funky, world-influenced tunes.
Casey: Mitch Chmara, Tim Lee, Chris Sauthoff, Paa Kow
Alice: Maybe this isn’t speaking for the band, but I’m not super involved in the jam scene and I get huge motivation from the jazz scene here- particularly artists like Ron Miles, Venus Cruz, and pretty much any of those assholes in Supercollider. In terms of “world" music here, I think we gotta mention Paa Kow’s By All Means band. They’ve informed so much about how I want to learn music (oral tradition, fuckers), and how I would like the flow of concerts I play to go. They put so much content and quality into music that is unbelievably accessible and fun. And they have the tightest horn section this side of the Mississippi.

AXS: Does ATOMGA have a goal in mind for the sound the band produces? Are there certain influences or themes the band tries to inject into its own music?
Leah: We want all of our tunes to keep people moving and on their feet while maybe stopping in their tracks to think about potent lyrics or a sick horn line they just heard. We have a variety of backgrounds and influences amongst our members, so if a horn line sounds like it could be a shout chorus of a big band tune, or there’s a proggy/math-rock guitar/bass duo, it’s all part of our musical melting pot.
Casey: We collectively have many influences spanning across the spectrum of all music from all over the world. Fela Kuti is a major influence among many others. We mainly just want to make people dance while pushing ourselves musically.
Frank: We do put a lot of effort, when writing originals, to keep a raw, organic sound while developing a strong, clean groove that [with so many musicians] doesn't sound cluttered.

AXS: What would your ideal live show look like? Where would it take place? Any particular time of year? Would a specific band/musician share the bill with or open for ATOMGA?
Leah: As far as venues are concerned, of course Red Rocks is the #1 bucket list item for most Colorado musicians. I have always wanted to play shows with Femi Kuti & The Positive Force and The Budos Band. Our styles of music mesh really well and they are 2 of my favorite groups who play Afrobeat/Afro-influenced music. If we ever found ourselves in Lagos, Nigeria playing at the New Afrika Shrine [Note: The original Shrine was a nightclub founded by Fela Kuti where he performed regularly and officiated Yoruba ceremonies], we would be taken aback by the rich history and seeing the roots and traditions of the music we play.

AXS: What do you enjoy most about Denver’s music scene, and why?
Frank: I would say the thriving music scene that we have here is quite an inspiration in itself. Any and all genres, great musicianship who love to collaborate, wonderful venues with great sound gear and engineers and, most of all, support by the people locally who come to see and appreciate the shows.
Leah: Collaboration and support. Denver is the hub for a creative renaissance where people aren’t afraid of new ideas and to have their voices heard. We live in a place where super jams and collaborations are a common occurrence in the music scene and it seems like whenever musicians have nights off, they are out there supporting their friends and colleagues around the community. It’s truly something special that doesn’t happen everywhere.
Alice: Gotta agree with Leah in terms of the supportive community and variety of the musicians here. I feel like every musician can find their own niche, and that the music scene is very supportive and accepting to anyone who puts themselves out there to play or listen. I’m constantly surprised by how musicians support each other, and I feel like Denver operates in a very non-competitive way that is unique and crazy fun. Also, the men. I enjoy the men.
Leah: I second Alice on the men!

Music-wise, here’s a list of other awesome Denver bands that feature various members of ATOMGA: Hamhock; Tnertle; Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats; Knocean; The Abstract Collective; Samwich; Gora Gora Orkestar; Sleazy Grease; Crescent Brothers Blues Band; Dover Prose

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