Chopteeth: Afro-Funk With Lunatic Energy


The Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band has recorded with Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars and Malian griot Cheick Hamala Diabate. Glenda Kapsalis hide caption

itoggle caption Glenda Kapsalis

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."

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