Amon: Fela Meets The Skatalites In Brooklyn

amon

Amon is a master of the pocket. He’s able to drop into any groove - house, reggae, West African, R&B – and add tasty fills that augment and propel the music without calling attention to himself. Years of playing djembe for West African dance classes and dance parties refined his approach and has allowed him to bring it all back to the 1, no matter how challenging the musical framework may be. How does he do it? “I honestly don’t have a clue,” he says. “My mom told me to smile and act like you know what you’re doing until you figure it out and that’s taken me some time. I tried playing electronic music, but I’m a percussionist and I like creating live music. If you’re making digital music and the power goes out, everything vanishes. You can’t take a computer to a drum circle or a campfire jam.”

Playing For The Dancers

Despite his reservations about electronic music, Amon first gained recognition for his ability to mix hand percussion and electronic music when he started playing sets with DJs at outdoor dance parties in New York City. A DJ would drop a few beats from a recorded break and Amon would answer it with a phrase from his djembe, creating a 21st century twist on the ancient African call-and-response technique. His work with DJs like Chris Annibell (Afrokinetic) and Nickodemus (Turntables On The Hudson) helped him find work as a session musician and ignited the spark that would lead to the formation of his own band, Analog Players Society.

“I was playing an Afrokinetic dance in Dumbo [down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass, a neighborhood in Brooklyn],” he recalls. “Chris dropped a Tortured Soul track into the mix and Ethan [White, the keyboard player in Tortured Soul] heard us playing his music and got in touch with me.” White asked Amon to add percussion to a few Tortured Soul remixes and offered to trade keyboard parts for anything Amon was working on. White was enlisted to join Analog Players Society on keys.

Accidents Will Happen

Amon had been composing music for years, building tracks on a 4-track recorder he kept with him on his musical journey. He showed White the ideas he had and together they sketched out the parts that the other players would add. Playing sessions had connected Amon to some of New York’s top musicians and the first APS sessions produced a couple of sparkling singles. A reggae-flavored cover of Shannon’s “Let The Music Play,” featured Amon on glockenspiel and the Nu Shooz hit “I Can’t Wait” combined an Africanized 12/8 shuffle, subliminally mixed under a bluebeat rhythm with a vocal by guest artist Cecilia Stalin (Koop). The records were selling well and work was continuing on the band’s debut, Hurricane Season In Brooklyn, when a taxi rear-ended Amon’s pick-up, leaving him with a serious spinal chord injury.

“The taxi hit at full speed and pushed my truck into an intersection,” Amon says. “I had to put the album on hold to recuperate and I still can’t practice as much as I’d like to without pain.” Amon moved a massage table into the studio and mixed the album lying on his stomach. Although there was a nine-month break between the original sessions and the final mixing and overdubs, the music on Hurricane Season flows smoothly. “I call the sound ’Fela Meets The Skatalites,’ a combination of all the sounds I’ve been influenced by from Afrobeat to hip-hop and jazz.”

Amon’s unique percussion ideas are evident throughout the album. The title lays a melodic phrase from Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand The Rain” over a groove generated by Amon’s stomping and hand clapping. “Those hand and foot rhythms were picked up in African dance classes. The foot stomps are me in a bathtub and the clapping polyrhythm I made up in the control room.”

While his back injury still makes playing for long periods of time problematic, Amon is looking forward to some local live gigs, aware of the fact that a mostly instrumental album may be a hard sell. “I’m not articulate in expressing myself with words, but music gets right to your emotions and has a different effect on every listener. People [who listen to the album] have complimented us on the amazing work of the band. I write my horn lines as if they were lyrics; when we play it live, the message comes across. Will it sell? I don’t really care. If I wanted to make money on music, I wouldn’t be a percussionist and I wouldn’t own a recording studio.”

Pots, Pans, And Drum Kits

Amon was born in Dayton, Ohio, and, like many drummers, he began banging on pots and pans before he could walk. “My parents tell me I was playing rhythms before I was a year old. I had enough strength to pick up a frying pan and hit myself in the head with it. I didn’t hurt myself, but maybe that explains the sounds that are still resonating in my skull,” he says, chuckling.

His mother was a teacher, his father a scientist who worked at the microbiology lab at Wright State University. The whole family loved music and introduced him to Gene Krupa, Led Zeppelin, Simon And Garfunkel, reggae and steel pan music. He saw Pink Floyd’s movie version of The Wall when he was nine and the sound of the bass drums added another vibration to the sounds already reverberating in his head. “I never stopped playing pots and pans. When my parents saw I was serious about drumming, they bought me the basics – snare, hi-hat, and kick.” Amon saved up to buy a floor tom and cymbal and slowly built a complete drum kit. He played the kit from nine to nineteen. He chose band over football in grammar school and played in the dance band and marching band. He wasn’t a dork, but he wasn’t popular either. After school he’d go to his basement, put on headphones, and play along with records to hone his chops, leaning on prog-rock and metal – in particular, Asia, Metallica, and Zeppelin.

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