Amandla Tunesmith has been blasting the bay area with its brand of soukous since 1992.
Soukous - from the French word secousse, meaning to move or shake - is a pastiche of rhumba, Cuban and reggae rhythms; Caribbean consonant color; and Afro-beat instrumentation similar to much of Paul Simon's album Graceland. The music is traditionally sung in the African languages of Lingala and Swahili.
Drummer John Walman moved to the bay area from Hawaii, where he had performed in a world-beat group called Pagan Babies. Noting his group received the most response when playing the rhythm-driven soukous, Walman decided capitalize on the concept. Eager to play again, Walman posted ads in a local paper, searching for musicians. Guitarist Desi Saludes heeded that call, and the initial seeds of Amandla Tunesmith were sewn. Singer Zakayo Mutsache, a native of Kenya, soon followed suit at the suggestion of John Dubrule, host of WMNF-FM's now defunct Sound Safari program.
They started off playing gigs at local tropical venues like Skipper's Smokehouse and The Lemon Coast Grill in Sarasota. Having been taken under the wings of local ska outfit Magadog, coupled with exposure and promotion from Dubrule's radio show, they quickly gathered a strong following. Their popularity led to them being requested to play at festivals, events and weddings. Soon they were playing all over Florida, and opening for such acts as Burning Spear, the Refugee All-Stars, Steel Pulse, and soukous artists Tabu Ley and Franco.
Since then, the local soukous enthusiasm has settled down, and Amandla Tunesmith's musical output has become less frequent.
Over the years, the band has gone through many permutations, with the current lineup being: Zakayo Mutsache, vocals; Vincent Sims, guitar and vocals; Desi Saludes, guitar and vocals; Sylvester Bryant, bass and vocals; Ed Pagliuso, percussion; Jon Walman, drums; and the occasional assistance of Cheryl Barnett on vocals.
On Saturday, they'll play WMNF's Tropical Heatwave, in the Cuban Club Ballroom. Local act Big Night Out members Bruce Glasberg (trombone) and Keith Green (trumpet) will assist, along with Malinese master percussionist Baye Kouyate sitting in on percussion.
With this gig, they're hoping to rekindle a soukous revival. In the future, they want to play more gigs, promote themselves and reminding the masses that soukous is alive again.
Having played Tropical Heatwave three times previously, Amandla Tunesmith should feel right at home on Saturday night.
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The group will perform at Tropical Heatwave on Saturday in Ybor City. Look for them at 8:50 p.m. in the Cuban Club Ballroom. For details, see wmnf.org/heatwave or flip to Page 44. myspace.com/amandlatunesmith.