It's difficult to picture a band coming out of Ann Arbor, Mich., and performing Afrobeat music so passionately that you might think their roots lay across the ocean. But the octet NOMO, whose name means "music that dispels bad spirits," was educated with the sound of original Afrobeat music, inspired by African legend Fela Kuti.
Touring in support of its recent album Ghost Rock, the band stopped by KUT's Studio 1A in mid-July, with synthesizers, horns and homemade instruments in tow. Elliot Bergman, speaking on behalf of NOMO's eight musicians, explained to KUT's Jay Trachtenberg how a band coming out of the Midwest came to emulate music many Americans overlook. "With each album, we try to incorporate new sounds and different ideas," he says, "and not rehash music from the '70s. We try to give it an update." Ironically, NOMO learned to fine-tune its sound far from the rugged landscapes of musically rich traditional Nigerian songs.
"Layers" is the key word for a band in which each of the eight players carries his own beat, contributing to the percussive sound of every recording. With all the horns and synths, it can be hard to grasp which direction a tune is heading and how it's going to get there. Considering the complexity of NOMO's songs and how they're crafted, the band works amazingly well together, mastering the precarious balance between jam band and sophisticated percussion ensemble.
A relatively young act, NOMO has been together for more than five years, keeping the core of the band consistent while still incorporating more than 70 musicians into their three full-length recordings. Bergman admitted that the band, while young and still defining its sound, acknowledges and understands the sacred roots of its music. "We definitely have roots in the past," he says, "but we are definitely trying to point to something that has yet to come."
Originally recorded July 22, 2008.
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