Album of the Day: Kaleta & Super Yamba Band, “Mèdaho”

Leon “Kaleta” Ligan-Majek has performed in Nigerian bands led by both juju giant King Sunny Adé and Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Yet it’s the latter who provides the template for much of the Benin-born guitarist’s winning union with drummer Daniel Yount’s Super Yamba Band in New York, where Kaleta has lived for decades. Their debut album, Mèdaho, is a brawny blend of ’70s and ’80s Afrofunk with the sort of high-octane neo-Afrobeat introduced by fellow New Yorkers Antibalas. Super Yamba boast a monstrous horn section, sinuous keyboards, and Kaleta’s spacious rhythm-guitar lines and wah-wah snarls.

Like Benin’s powerful Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, Kaleta is a top-notch screamer on the churning “Mr. Diva” and throughout Mèdaho—the title of which is a shout-out to Fela, Kaleta’s brother, and funk ancestors of all nations. “Super Yamba Theme,” with its utterly irresistible polyrhythmic groove, proclaims a sinuous Afrofunk internationalism. Having been raised in the Celestial Church of Christ, where he also played guitar, Kaleta knows a thing or two about lifting listeners’ spirits. He’s as charismatic a frontman as Afropop has at the moment, and, like both of his famous former bandleaders, a presence to be reckoned with.

-Richard Gehr

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