The Rapidian Home

Antibalas coming to Founders Brewing on September 30

For decades, Antibalas (which translates to bullet proof in Spanish) has paid homage to and transformed Afro-caribbean and Afro-beat music. Erica Soto interviews Antibalas founder, Martín Perna, about their latest album, resisting oppression, and telling stories and truth through music.

Antibalas /Michael Davis

Underwriting support from:

For decades, Antibalas (which translates to “bullet proof” in Spanish) has paid homage to and transformed Afro-caribbean and Afro-beat music. The Brooklyn-based band incorporates jazz, funk, and African drumming to their sound as well as intentionally giving voice to those of us who remain unheard and underrepresented. Their sixth and newest album “Where the Gods Are in Peace,” touches on culturally relevant subject matter such as indigenous oppression and addresses the current political climate authentically from a place of resistance and consciousness.

“True to traditional form, Where The Gods Are In Peace pays respect to the forefathers of Afrobeat with compositions spanning nine to 15 minutes in length. With a blessing from the Fela Kuti legacy early in the band's’ career, Antibalas has long been revered for re-popularizing the classic Afrobeat sound while adding their distinct New York City grit to the mix. Influences of punk rock, free jazz, and hip-hop seep into their expansive works to define a truly 21st century translation of the Afrobeat genre and beyond.” -DiscoramaOverstock

Q&A with founder Martín Perna

What was your biggest motivation for the album?

Martín: “Our motivation is sort of a much longer historical arch both looking backward and looking forward. We can get mad, we can react to stuff that is messed up politically, but why does the same stuff keep happening? Why do people still defend the civil war 150 years later? Why do people still fear diversity? We wanted to approach those different questions in this album. Another thing is, why are people still mad, after all this time? As we speak more and more about history we hear all about the Eastern European, grievances which really doesn’t make sense because everything in this country has been set up for their benefit. When other people want those same opportunities, like indigenous folk, black folk, and immigrants, all of a sudden that promise is taken away. So we explore those ideas in our songs. We wanted to think about, spiritually, what we need to do as individuals and a nation, to get ourselves to a place where we can have productive movement, rather than sling the same old insults at one another. So we thought, ‘what can we do as a band to say, we need to make things right?’ Being at each other’s throat is not going to help either of us move forward.”

Antibalas has never been afraid of using its musical influence to send messages of resisting oppression, do you believe that musicians, especially today, have a responsibility to be out on the forefront and use their musical platform to raise awareness of political issues?

Martín: “I can only speak personally on behalf of what we believe as a band. We each come from diverse backgrounds of struggle and oppression. Playing this music comes with a legacy and it has a rich history behind it. It would be disingenuous to be inspired by political music and play it, but then not be political yourself. Part of it is honoring the people that came before us and the sacrifices they made. I don’t police other artists or wave my finger at them and say, ‘you aren’t political enough.’ But I’ve realized that compared to other artists of the 60’s, for example, musicians of now are more of a brand and are afraid to catch hell or lose their deals if they speak out.  I think of artists like the Dixie Chicks who spoke out politically a few years ago. They had everything to lose, but still made their statement because it was the right thing to do. I became a fan of theirs after that. So as a band, we draw inspiration from many artists like them. They have a lot more to lose than Antibalas by speaking up, but they still do it. We are human beings, we can’t be blind to what’s going on. I think it is possible to create something beautiful and meaningful and can challenge the different power dynamics that are not right, that are contradictory to what America promises to be.”

What advice would you give other musicians struggling with wanting to be open and vocal about these political issues but feeling opposing pressure?

Martín: “Don’t hold back, but still figure out how to make your critiques in a way that everyone can see you are not trying to exclude them. Rather, include them in something bigger than their political worldview. One big part of it is to tell more stories and truth through music. Also, let people know that even though people are disappointed, we can all get on the same level as far as what America has promised. America needs to live up to its contract. We all deserve equal opportunity to live in clean places and have a good education. We all want to be safe and not be shot by the police. Everyone is guilty of going back to that place of anger and putting that forward instead of communicating and finding solutions because we have been hurt so much. We are continuously on that end of force. So I think it’s just hammering home that message, that it’s not about recycling vengeance.”

Do you think it’s possible for this generation to heal and that music is the connection to that healing?

Martín: “I think that it’s dangerous to put the mantel of responsibility solely on music, but I do think that music is a lot more powerful than people give it credit for as far as bringing people together in physical spaces. Music has a way of reinforcing certain ideas and values or framing them in a different way. It’s important that multiple artists are singing about the same things because there are different ways of seeing things and presenting them. It’s important that these issues are expressed in different genres because we are such a diverse nation. It’s dangerous to just have “message music” and find a pigeonhole in just one genre of music. I think musicians can play a role, but I don’t know that we need to be at the forefront of every political issue. First and foremost, we need to get people to appreciate why other people’s grievances are valuable. True healing doesn’t come when others suffer, but rather when we can understand that we are all a part of this and we can heal together. Having shows where everyone can feel included enforces that. So when the audience has to go back to the real world, they can say, ‘I had a really good experience with people who were different from me and no one was trying to hurt me.’ That’s something important that people never forget. As musicians, we can create those experiences for people, so that the next time they have an interaction with someone different than them they can have more compassion. That’s what I hope we can really stir up, compassion. It’s in low supply right now.”

Antibalas is coming up on their 20 year anniversary, how do you manage to keep evolving while still connecting to younger generations who might not be familiar with your sound?

Martín: “The music is very futuristic. Miles Davis said in the 1970’s that “Afrobeat is the music of the future.” I still think it’s like that. It’s an organic music, not auto-tuned or machine made. The rhythms are sophisticated and complicated, but also hit your body in an unquestionable way. People haven’t even begun to pick the sound apart or understand how rich it is. In the same way, there can me some seemingly simple recipe to a sancocho (a typical caribbean stew) but when you really learn how to make it, the more you understand how it is made, the deeper the appreciation is for it. The dish recipe can be over 100 years old but you can make it tomorrow and it would still taste as good because of all the multiple layers in the process. So in the same sense, that what allows or music to survive. Even if we have members leave and go on to other things outside of Antibalas, new people can come in and can still plug right in to that. That keeps things going for us.”

Listening to your sound, it is easy to feel the New York, caribbean influence and energy your music is filled with. How would you describe that energy to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

Martín: “New York is the crossroads of the world, and it has been for hundreds of years. There has always been interaction between so many different cultures. With constant waves of immigration and people settling in New York and vibing with one another, our music is just a continuation of that. We (Antibalas) are a slice of New York in a lot of ways. Many of our members come from different countries and backgrounds. At the same time, the root of our sound is African and Afro-caribbean influence coming through New York. That music is the sound of the city. If you are true to the music, you get adopted into it. I think that’s been the case with us.”

Is there a track on the album that you connect with most? Why?

Martín: “My favorite song on the album is Tombstown, all three movements. It’s a beautiful song. The title of the album actually comes from that song. We didn’t have an album title for a while and I was going through the lyrics and looking for things that captured the story essence. When thinking about the phrase Where the Gods are in Peace, whether your belief is monotheistic or in multiple spiritual forces, because things are so chaotic on earth, maybe there is work that we are not doing. As a result, our gods are fighting and we are carrying those battles of peace and war on earth. So the idea is put forth of, what do we need to do to make our gods have peace? That’s why I like this song. I think it’s one of our best compositional works and I like where it’s going as far as engaging people on this metaphysical level and trying to bring it back to the day to day political level.”

What can we expect from Antibalas moving forward?

Martín: “We had a long writing session a few weeks ago to get our next record going after this album. It was five years in between Where the Gods Are in Peace and our previous album. We hit a rough patch with changing management and personal life situations affecting many of our members. We’re in a position now, however, to maintain and move forward. We have a lot of new music coming next year and we’ll be introducing a lot of new sounds on the road. That way, when the new album comes, all those songs have already been tested on the road, tweaked, and refined. Since day one, we’ve tried to make something out of nothing. Our imagination gets going and we’re challenging ourselves to make the show more visually compelling. We’re trying to be more real with ourselves and give more to the music because we know people need more. So we’ll continue to respond (with our music) in that way.”

Where the Gods Are in Peace was released on September 15, 2017. The album can be purchased on iTunes and Amazon. The show on Founders Brewing show on September 30, 2017 in Grand Rapids is a $10 cover at the door, day-of-show only, first-come, first-served. Entry is based upon room capacity. Remaining tour dates are available at

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.