Sunday, April 9, 2017

United Vibrations and The Dream of Natural Resistance

Despite evolving into an elitist media orgy, SXSW remains an important opportunity for musicians to widen their visibility in an increasingly complicated mediascape, and during Spring Break 2017 it happened as it has for years. For some, however, things did did not go as expected. The Trump administration’s influence on travel regulations caused several international artists to have visas unexpectedly revoked. This scenario, unimaginable only a year ago, caused musicians that were counting on the festival for their livelihood to be denied access.

I was outraged when I heard. In a show of support for these artists, I immediately went to their Bandcamp sites and purchased music from as many as I could afford. Surprisingly, many of these recordings are exceptional, none more so that The Myth of the Golden Ratio from United Vibrations.

United Vibrations, like many “world music” projects, owes a debt to to Fela Kuti, but navigates his influence in a relatively unique way. Afrobeat, in its original form, could be identified by its driving, deep ostinato grooves, a hypnotic aspect that allowed Fela’s songs to stretch to fit his political agenda. As enthralling as it was, it did not provide much latitude for structure and contrast. United Vibrations flawlessly captures the Afrobeat groove, but utilizes it within more complex songwriting structures.

Their songwriting approach, however, is hardly strict or standard. United Vibrations creates quite a bit of space for instrumental interplay, which infuses some passages on the album with the electricity of great jazz. This, coupled with its songwriting structures, soaring melodies, and hints of jazz harmony, makes The Myth of the Golden Ratio seem like an Afropop take on the Dream of the Blue Turtles.

As much as Sting’s classic debut was a great jazz-pop crossover, it was also a commentary on the Cold War. The Myth of the Golden Ratio is similarly unified by an explicit commentary on contemporary civilization. United Vibrations position themselves as the voice of nature, begging the human populace to realign themselves with a more essential human experience. This narrative is also an important reinterpretation of Afropop’s function as the music of resistance. While United Vibrations is hardly inflammatory in their message, their delivery is direct enough to be clearly understood. The results sometimes come off as preachy, but not so much as to inhibit its resonance.

Viewing The Myth of the Golden Ratio as a statement of resistance against contemporary society seems particularly appropriate considering what the band went through last month. Being shut out of SXSW due to the prejudicial direction that US policies are taking almost feels like the forces that United Vibrations rallies their audience against are trying to quell the message. Perhaps I am succumbing to my own conspiratorial paranoia, but I also noticed that when I began to promote the band I experienced some subtle pushback. My attempts to repost their music in my feed was often met with “error” messages. Still, I persisted in encouraging any music fan within earshot to purchase The Myth of the Golden Ratio, both because I hoped to turn the negative situation of this year’s SXSW into a positive and because the album is quickly evolving into one of my 2017 favorites.

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