The Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band has recorded with Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars and Malian griot Cheick Hamala Diabate.
The term "Chopteeth" means just what it sounds like: eating one's own teeth, or at least being crazy enough to try it.
It's the spirit behind the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band, a Washington, D.C.-based afrobeat orchestra whose 14 members hail from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Romania and the United States. Musical director and guitarist Michael Shereikis says the name comes from a Fela Kuti song called "Jehin, Jehin."
"It, as you say, means somebody who eats their own teeth," Shereikis says. "Somebody who's foolish enough to attempt something like starting a 14-piece afro-funk band."
Chopteeth borrows rhythms from throughout the African diaspora: Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Jamaica, even a James Brown cover. Now, the group has a self-titled debut album out.
Guest host David Greene spoke with Shereikis and bass player (and co-founding member) Robert Fox.
"We write in a vein so that people can find themselves inside the music," Shereikis says. "We're not trying to impress anybody or be purists about anything — just respectful and thoughtful about how we piece things together. And so far, every musician — every African musician we've played with — has given us the thumbs up."