February 11 2019

Annie O Presents: Armo

New York-Standard Sounds
Armo’s intimate and energetic sound focuses on classical and contemporary Afrobeat, featuring the works of Fela Anikulapo Kuti and new directions in music set upon by Armo’s founders. This 6-piece band is an outgrowth of Afrobeat pioneers Antibalas, featuring lead singer/keyboardist Amayo, trumpeter Jordan McLean, percussionist/vocalist Marcus Farrar, and drummer Kevin Raczka. Renowned bassist Justin Kimmel and guitarist Nikhil P. Yerawadekar; also, members of the Antibalas family of musicians complete the band's unique electric sound. Annie O caught up with Armo to discuss their first upcoming release, a self-titled EP, and the show at TOTS on Feb 13, both on the same day!

What is the idea behind the name Armo?

The word comes from an auto-corrected text where I tried to type Amayo, the name of our lead singer. We played around with other names but kept coming back to Armo, as it sounded the most like the music. 

Can you tell me how this project came about and the connection with Antibalas? 

Armo had its first performance in the Winter of 2017 as part of the "Why Jewish?" series at NuBlu, produced by Relix Magazine Editor, Mike Greenhaus. The connection to Antibalas is that every member of Armo has played with Antibalas, including Amayo and Jordan who are founding members. Marcus Farrar has been with the band as a percussionist and vocalist for 15 years; Kevin Raczka has been the full time Antibalas drummer for 3 years; Nikhil P. Yerawadekar played guitar and bass with the band for over 7 years, and Justin Kimmel has been the go-to bass player for much of the last year.

This is also an improvised music ensemble; in that we never rehearse.

Armo focuses on classical and contemporary Afrobeat music, including the music of Fela Kuti—what do you bring that is new to this legendary music?

There is much that is new in our approach to Afrobeat. Our external influences and the discipline pursued by each member of the group, combined with our shared understanding of the purpose and structure of the music give us a unique perspective on this now-classic form. This is also an improvised music ensemble; in that we never rehearse. We all know the repertoire and respect the assigned parts that make up one of Fela's songs, or Amayo's songs, or Jordan's songs. After that we are free to explore form, extended improvised solos in the spirit of jazz, and ride the excitement of not knowing what comes next. Even when we listed 20 songs we all knew for our 5 sets of music on New Year’s Eve, we never discussed what would happen. We have found discipline through freedom, opposite from the wisdom taught by Fela and Sun Ra of freedom through discipline. 

This is your first EP as Armo-how did the recording process go? Did you have a producer?

The record is almost all live, first takes, capturing precisely the kind of feeling the band seeks to achieve in concert. The band self-produced the record, led by trumpeter (and System Dialing Records co-founder) Jordan McLean. Vince Chiarito (of Charles Bradley's Extraordinaires) engineered the record Hive Mind Studios, built by he and fellow Daptone horn family members Billy Aukstik and Mike Buckley.

Besides Fela, what are the musical influences on the group? 

Sun Ra, James Brown, Grace Jones, Bob Marley. Yoruba music, Classic and Avant Garde jazz, all manner of Soul Music, Blues and Rhythm & Blues

The Standard

What are you listening to these days? Any contemporary African artist you enjoy listening to? 

Current Continental (African) listening includes: 
Mali 70
Electric Mali (Vol I & 2) 
Lokassa Ya M’Bongo - Self Titled 
Los Wawanco - 15 Exitos                                          
The Garifuna Collective - Ayó
Kombilesa Mi - Así es Palenque
Thiale Arby 
Aminata Wassidjé Traore 
Adama Bilorou
Mamoutou Sinayoko
Ali Farka Toure - The River
Haryana Ishola - Soyoyo 
Pusha T - Daytona
Bob Dylan - New Morning 

Will you be touring with this band?

Every member of the band is very busy with myriad musical and professional obligations, as well as family and loved ones, so touring is not our first priority. We are working on some very choice special engagements in different corners of the globe and are ready to accept an offer from anywhere in the known galaxy. For right now, New York is keeping us very busy and providing a perfect setting for our efforts.

What can we expect from your show at TOTS on Feb 13, as part of Standard Sounds?

Concert goers can anticipate a journey into the spiritual dimensions of electric rhythm, lyrical melodies that reflect real human experiences and a joyous fun time. After that, having no expectations means one is ready for anything, just like the musicians!

INTERVIEW BY
Annie O