The Budos Band echoes many Afrobeat acts in the way their music builds, blooms, and evolves organically, suggesting a tribe more than a simple musical combo. Rubbery funk rhythms bubble beneath the undulating horns that carry the melody. Guitar and bass linger understated, but constant like a breeze. In the case of the Staten Island eight-piece, it's even more tribal — all but the keyboardist grew up making music together, and when they discovered the retro sounds of Daptone Records bands like Sugarman Three, Antibalas, and Sharon Jones forerunner Soul Providers, they were all hooked.
"The band grew up playing together forever — hip-hop, hardcore, punk bands, all that sort of stuff, " recalls baritone sax player Jared Tankel. "Then there was this funk thing, and once we saw and befriended Antibalas, Afrobeat became a part of the equation."
Indeed, while Afrobeat has been an influence since the Budos Band's beginning, it's never been the only one. Even their eponymous first album was more Afro-funk than simply Afrobeat by Tankel's reckoning, and the instrumental act's style remains a moving target.
"In subtle ways, the sound has changed, and that's really just a reflection of our group mentality and sort of what we're listening to as a band together. All of us have different musical tastes and different influences, but there's a really strong shared experience in the band, and our sound really follows that," Tankel says.
While their 2005 debut was deep in the Afro-funk pocket, the follow-up, The Budos Band II, bore the jazzy influence of Ethiopiques, a series of releases (into its 27th volume) compiling some of the best Ethiopian singers and performers. By the time of their 2010 album, The Budos Band III, the band changed yet again, bringing out more of their funk/rock side. It's an appropriate transition for a band coming out of a rock tradition, and it reflected their natural, not particularly jammy inclinations. Only four songs in their entire catalog surpass four minutes; this concision is one of their finest traits.
"When we were playing these long Afrobeat songs, we started getting bored ourselves and ready to go to the next thing. That informs both our songwriting and performances," Tankel says. "As individuals, we like to keep things moving at a fast pace. If we were to really start extending long improv sections and doing 12-minute songs, I think we would lose focus."
III tends to split into two modes — hypnotic deep groove grazers and funky hard-charging firestarters. "That's definitely been developing more and more over the last couple years," Tankel explains. "We have four guys that are playing percussion, two conga players, and two more hand percussionists. So half the band is going to give it that funk-Latin-Afrobeat flavor, no matter what."
It's the other elements — horns, kit, and guitar — that create the other flavors that make Budos Band distinct from their peers. Some of the rhythms have more straight-up rock beats, while the horns (especially Tankel's saxophone) provide the melodies.
"We're now trying to figure out how we can replace what would be a rock vocalist with horn lines, while our bass and guitar play in lockstep more or less, so that's sort of the driving pulse," Tankel says. "They're really almost playing rock riffs, though the notes themselves may come from different influences."
The Budos Band has made some progress on a new album, penning a half-dozen tracks, some of which might get a workout at this week's show. The outlook is, for the first time, more of the same — only better.
"When we were writing and recording [III], that rock influence was just coming around, and for the fourth album it's like we're fully saturated in it," he says. "The third album was a good attempt at that and I think it's a good record, but in the whole process leading up to recording, I don't think we had totally come to grips with what we were going for. Now we are, and so I think it will be a more fully realized idea of what a rock record is for us."
Yet, whatever music they make, it will be from a bunch of friends from Staten Island, first and foremost. That "all-for-one and one-for-all" attitude has simply been bred into them, and it's still a big part of who they are.
"Staten Island is literally the most physically isolated borough of New York. It's the borough nobody thinks about. That separation allows for a certain amount of freedom," Tankel says. "It's allowed us to develop ourselves how we want to, not subscribing to the pressure of any scene that's going on around. Staten Island has its own weird music scene that's been going on forever and has never been part of some Brooklyn indie scene and probably wouldn't ever want to be. There's pride in being from out there."
That tightness and indifference to the current fashion has taken the Budos Band this far. Who's to say it won't take them even farther?