Afrobeat groups have been popping up all over Brazil these past few years, but Rio de Janeiro-based Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra is literally the biggest of the bunch — with 13 instrumentalists and singers, they’re not joking when they call themselves an orchestra.
Their second release, Abra Sua Cabeça (“Open Your Mind”), isn’t necessarily better than the first, but it is more expansive, in keeping with its title. Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen opens the album with spoken lines reminiscing about Fela Kuti, and then Abayomy stake their claim to Fela’s mantle by unleashing a sinuous maelstrom of horns and percussion.
Abayomy’s connection to Africa is deep — they even sing one track (“Atotô”) in Yoruba. But Abayomy are more than happy to blur the lines between Afrobeat and the sounds of the African diaspora in Brazil, particularly Bahian samba-reggae.
Manguebeat is another strong influence on the album, and not only because it was produced by Nação Zumbi’s Pupillo. Current Nação Zumbi frontman Jorge Du Peixe and former Nação Zumbi percussionist Otto handle the vocals in “Vou Pra Onde Vou” and “Mundo Sem Memória,” lending their distinctive styles to these respective tracks; the latter is particularly manguebeat-like thanks to Otto’s aggressive delivery and hard-edged guitars.
But Abayomy can also mellow out when the mood strikes them. Céu joins them on the reggae-tinged “Sensitiva,” and Tony Allen later shows his appreciation for the group by propelling the dreamlike 7-minute-plus opus “Tony Relax” with his unmistakable backbeat.
Add it all up and you have an album that would make Fela proud, just as much as it would bring a smile to the face of the late manguebeat pioneer Chico Science.