When pressed, the New Paltz-area band Rootbrew describes their bouncy, tuneful sound as “world soul.” It is a category of convenience, and the term “world” is especially problematic. New Jersey is the world, too, of course, and Dubuque; but in our little lexicon of musical genres, “world” typically denotes Afro-Cuban, Latin, Caribbean and African musical traditions. Thus, “world” usually comes with an embedded historical narrative of oppression and redress.
Often, “world” music is the poignant story of oppressed people seizing the cultural tools (guitars!) of their oppressors and repurposing them to fashion revolutionary art and bold statements of cultural autonomy. This is a certainly a big part of what has made Afropop so potent globally for so long. When the chain of influence and debt goes the other way, we often call it “appropriation.” And it can be a pretty hairy paradox to unpack when the music of the oppressed is adopted by sympathizers and radicals back in the land of the oppressor. The implications are a little over my head, I would say.
The delightful thing about Rootbrew is that they are serious, studious and fastidiously respectful of the music they have loved and learned well. They have apprenticed whenever possible with “the real thing,” but make no claim to being it themselves. They play their thing: a fusion of authentic West African “butterfly” guitar pop, island grooves and various folk styles from their own soil. At its best – say, “Dear Friends (Rising Up)” from Rootbrew’s three-song Resistance EP – it works like a charm: audacious and ultimately hope-filled political injunction for dark times, melodic rallying cries over the top of a lithe, complex weave of Afro-counterpoint and buoyant, sophisticated world-sourced grooves. Really nice.
Rootbrew performs at BSP on Friday, April 27 at 8 p.m. Kindred spirits Billy Wylder –players of a luminous world/folk style – are on the bill, as well as Ami Madeleine. Admission costs $10 at the door. BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston. For more on Rootbrew, visit https://rootbrew.bandcamp.com.