Alive, Well, and Jammin'

Not only is One World Tribe not defunct, it's breaking
into newer and larger markets and celebrating a new CD.

By Dave Richards
Staff Writer

One World Tribe will play not once but twice this weekend to celebrate the release of its second CD, "The World Today."

That's a lot of shows for a band that's defunct.

It's a joke! And not a good one, if you ask Kennedy Thompson, the Tribe's leader. If you really want to rattle his cage, if you want to rile him up, all you need to do is mention words like "defunct," "break-up," or "split" in the same sentence as One World Tribe.

"Please let the people konw we have not broken up," Thompson pleaded in a recent interview. "People in Erie are caught in this myth. Everywhere I go, they're like, 'What's up with One World Tribe? Did you break up?' No. We just don't play in Erie as much as we used to."

They're not home as often because they're expanding their base. The band frequently travels to Syracuse, Albany, Rochester, and Schenectady, N.Y., and is also starting to build a Philadelphia following. In Pittsburgh, the Tribe recently played a sold-out show with Schleigho at the Beehive Theatre. In Buffalo, they're kings, frequently drawing crowds of 400 to 500.

"There's a lot of places you go to get to when you're a band that's trying to be a regional band and a national band," said Thompson. "You've got to cover a lot of markers."

Might as well, since they cover nearly the entire musical world. What sets the Tribe apart is its dazzling stylistic virtuosity. From swirling African pop to stone-cold funk to Latin grooves to reggae to soulful ballads to jazz-fusion, the band incorporates just about everything while retaining its rhythmic intensity and proud social consciousness.

"The World Today" exudes an even stronger world-music feel than the band's 1997 debut, "Unity and Diversity." The irony: This wasn't supposed to be the follow-up.

The Tribe has long planned a concept CD entitled "Armed and Dangerous" that will feature more hip-hop elements than they've ever put down on disc. But that project wasn't coming together fast enough.

"We're still trying to get all those [hip-hop] influences together and get that down to a fine art, so to speak," said Thompson. "But we were still anxious to put something out. ... We had some extra tunes, quality tunes, so we were like, 'Let's put something out [in the meantime].'"

At First, One World Tribe envisioned a short EP. What emerged was something more, a seven-song, 40-minute dance party that cooks up a rhythmic storm. Thompson credits the disc's energy and exuberance to how they recorded it at Midtown Studios at Forward Hall. They cut the whole thing in just two days, overdubbing the vocals only. All other instruments were recorded live - no band-aids, no touch-ups, nothing.

"We wanted to get more of a feel of everyone playing together and responding to each other," said Thompson. "When you do things in the moment, it's a little fresher. Sometimes, if you do what we did, if there's mistakes, you just leave them [in] and that's part of the fabric. That's the way Thelonious Monk was. He never wanted to do more than two takes. If there was a mistake on the second take, you just had to live with it forever. He once said when he got past two times the feel was gone."

And with One World Tribe, its nothing if it doesn't have that feel.

The result feels like a live CD, minus crowd noise. Songs like "Twambie Tjue" - which brims with a hot Cuban / samba undercurrent - and the soaring, elastic title cut exude an earthly vigor that shows off this band's intuitive synchronicity. Parts of the ultra-funky "World Today" sound like vintage Sly Stone - if Sly was still writing killer hits, that is.

Tribe: 'We wanted to get more of a feel of everyone playing together'
Tribe: 'We wanted to get more of a feel of everyone playing together'

Meanwhile, "Tell Them" serves up righteous reggae and the percussion-driven "Unity a Parte" opens with tribal drums before sequeing into an intriguing blend of bossa nova and samba. Meanwhile, Frank Singer cuts loose with some funk-infected guitar work. It's a tune that starts intense and keeps building, like "Remain in Light"-era Talking Heads.

"World Today" also features some rippling piano in the sparkling, Latin-rocker "No Looking Back," while "Resistance" opens in a churchy gospel / R&B vein. "Touba (Holy City)," M'Baye Diagne's bouncy, infectious groove of African reggae, closes the CD just as it began - on a highly dancable note.

Now, will a label take a chance on One World Tribe? In an era of teen pop, where does sophisticated world-beat music fit in?

"It's going to take a label that has some vision to try to push some different stuff at radio," said Thompson. "Because our stuff is a little different. But I think it'll sell. I have no doubt if you play some of this stuff and let it sink into people's heads, it'll sell a couple million copies, easy. But radio is so in a box with its format, it doesn't want to try anything new. They're scared to put anything new on the air."

But One World Tribe - together six years, despite an oversized lineup that can range from 11 to 13 members - will stay the course.

"We haven't reached our goals," said Thompson. "[When] you know you can't reach your goals, then it's time to go on. We're trying to take our music everywhere."

One World Tribe plays with Sonic Garden, a Buffalo-based Grateful Dead cover band, on Saturday at Docksider. On Sunday, they'll take part in a big Gifts for Kids benefit show at Forward Hall, open to all ages. That show also features Storey, Rd., Sam Hyman and Boyd Baker, and the Frog Tree Gorge Band.