By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Afrolicious.
Imagine you’re trying to form a band. You need great musicians, but you don’t know where to find them. Should you put up some Craigslist postings, maybe loiter around the local guitar store? Or you could hit up the closest venue, invite all of the musicians in town, and throw an all-night romper with a changing line-up and improvised jams.
The latter is exactly how the afrobeat/funk/DJ-based collective Afrolicious came together. The funky fluctuations of this eight-to-10-piece band started its early rumblings in 2010, at the San Francisco Mission District’s notorious Elbo Room.
With their unofficial motto, “It’s a party, not a show,” brothers Oz and Joe “Pleasuremaker” McGuire began hosting weekly shindigs at the venue. A variety of musical genres from the African diaspora unraveled and melded on any given night, and before long the events were referred to as “Afrolicious.”
The mood was relaxed and open–inspiring countless talents and established musicians from the community to drop in and play.
“It was pure joy the whole time,” Joe “Pleasuremaker” McGuire tells BTR. “To watch so many people come together, the musicians, the performers, the people bringing the energy… it was mind-blowing man.”
By 2010, the McGuire brothers had a pretty good idea about what they envisioned Afrolicious to become. With an array of top-shelf players at their fingertips, both Joe and Oz began crafting a sound comprised of equal parts soul, funk, Latin, Afrobeat, and electronic influences. The chemistry was instantaneously kinetic.
In 2013, they’d already paved the way with their own label, and after a handful of successful EPs released their first full-length album, California Dreaming.
While the process was organic, Joe is the first to admit that neither he nor his brother shared any real notion as to where the group was heading. The music materialized in front of them, but the players were changing in a perpetual dance. In such a large band, it can be difficult to find the right commitment from all of those involved.
Joe maintains a positive outlook on the changing lineup, which he regards as a recycling of creative energy. His mantra of creation is always moving forward. “Each day is a different day and each you a different you,” he says in his charismatic ramble. So why make the same thing you did yesterday?
Don’t let the seemingly disjointed nature of the lineup fool you–these guys are tight. It’s clear right out the gate that there are years of chemistry thrumming beneath the complex rhythms, in the staccato spitfire of horn lines and floating chunky wah-guitars. At the same time there’s a certain looseness that almost seems paradoxical. Here’s an ensemble that can maneuver complex tempo changes, but with an elasticity suggesting sudden movement at any fork in the tune.
“I think you just touched upon the definition of funk,” Joe laughs.
“There’s a certain tightness and certain looseness. In life there is a lot of push and pull, in nature, a lot of duality. The looseness comes from the attitude, the vibration and the way you play with the rhythm itself. That’s the way you carry yourself and live your life. The energy guides you.”
Joe lives and breathes his art. You can hear it in his voice, in the musicality of his laugh and carefree abandon that serves to embody the music. He explains that his DJ name “Pleasuremaker” is an encapsulation of his ethos both as an entertainer and musical creator. No matter what the subject, Joe does his best to inject it with the pleasure and joy that he lives with and that he encourages others to do.
One of his biggest influences is his brother, Senor Oz McGuire. While Joe lends his infectious passion towards live jamming, Oz completes the band’s sonic vision with electronic manipulation and samples.
It’s two completely different worlds of sound—they can become ethereal when executed correctly or sound like they’re at war with one another. Blending the “human power,” as he puts it, with the artifice of manipulated instrumentation has proven to be one of the most difficult challenges he’s faced as an artist.
To hear the rest of the Afrolicious interview, check out the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.
Find your own way to interpret Afrolicious by clicking here.