Bengali 600: Soul-stirring Afrobeat

It was Saturday at Little Econ Love Fest, and I had to zip back home to run an errand before returning to Maddox Ranch. Tired as I was, I made sure I was back by 11 AM, because there was no way I was going to miss Bengali 600, the Afrobeat band from Orlando I had been Jones-ing to see seemingly forever. And they were awesome.

So I was truly excited to see that Bengali 600 had a Friday show scheduled for the New World Brewery in Ybor City (Tampa, March 25th). It seemed like the perfect venue for this excellent band, and indeed it was.

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Bengali 600 are: Todd Elliott, bass; Robby Copeland, drums; Aaron Mellick, guitar; Rogier van Etten, keys; Jeff Richey, tenor sax; Chris King, trumpet; Christian Ryan, baritone sax, flute; and Vernon Suber, percussion.

DJ Pete Bones was providing music before and after each set. We arrived just as Bengali 600 opened the first set with “T.I.B.W.F.” It was smoking hot, with leader Jeff Richey blowing a great tenor solo, followed by Chris King on his first-ever performance with the band. To say that he fit right in would be an understatement.

Next up was “South,” again featuring Richey and Christian Ryan, this time with a superb flute solo. For a man who balances playing three saxophones and flute (time to look at a soprano!), Ryan’s flute work has gone through the roof. His phrasing is reminiscent of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Brother Yusef Lateef, and Karl Denson.

These gentlemen admire a band from the ‘90s called The Daktaris, so next they rolled out that group’s “Daktari Walk.” It was ‘yuge.’ Robby Copeland in particular owned this one. During “Law and Order (STFU),” Ryan had a great bari solo, followed by Richey and King.

I have seen Vernon Suber on numerous occasions with Holey Miss Moley, a funk band he plays in with Ryan. But, until this night, I clearly had never really heard Vernon Suber. Because WOW. He was awesome on all manner of percussion, and it was equally great to watch him perform. I will pay much better attention in future.

The first set closed with a very uptempo piece called “Hidden Hand” and an excellent “Quiet Man.”

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Then it was DJ Pete Bones’ turn to keep us entertained. This set had very good and very sloppy aspects to it, but I would certainly like to see him again. The music was absurdly loud for a set break, but it was really, really good, a great fit for Bengali 600. Unfortunately, about halfway through a fairly long set he became uninterested or distracted, as he stepped away from his kit for various conversations. The music suffered during this period as well, but he closed the set in better fashion. He clearly can be great — when he concentrates on his job. Next time…

Set two by Bengali 600 was more of the same wonderful music. “Big Hustle” opened the set. Ryan had great bari solos on “Ride or Die” and “The Shakedown.” Then David Tatro, trombone player for The New Rulers, came up to join the festivities. Another Daktaris cover, “Musicawi Silt,” was next, Tatro, Richey, Ryan on flute and King soloing. Tatro also played on “Battle of the Sexes.”

My written-in-the dark notes mention that Aaron Mellick and Rogier van Etten had numerous shorter solos on guitar and that wonderful Fela Kuti-style keyboard. What they provided underneath the music was even more important. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of Todd Elliott (bass) and  Copeland was pumping that Afrobeat.

This was simply a superior evening of music from a great collective. If you love Afrobeat, you owe it to yourself to check the band’s official Facebook page for upcoming shows.

[SET 1: T.I.B.W.F., South, Daktari Walk, Law & Order (STFU), Hidden Hand, Quiet Man; SET 2: Big Hustle, Ride or Die, The Shakedown, Musicawi Silt, Battle of the Sexes, Female Love Interest, Up From the South, Eltsuhg Ibal Lasiti]

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