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Antibalas, Zap Mama complement each other on joint tour

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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The union of Antibalas and Zap Mama is certainly a no-brainer.

Both are purveyors of African music, with Antibalas' explosive instrumental work and Zap Mama's smooth vocal blend cut from the same genre-blending stylistic cloth. But the two acts have not had a chance to work together before until being brought together to tour, and they're taking the collaboration very seriously according to Antibalas founder Martin Perna.

"It's a lot of work, and it's not easy because we never had a creative relationship before," says the saxophonist. "But the energy and the talents of the groups, one complements the other in an amazing way. They're so vocally strong and tight and inventive, and we bring a really powerful instrumental energy, and just putting them together with people who like each other, it's great.

"A lot of times the hardest work is just establishing that trust. But that wasn't hard to do; once we saw, 'Oh, you're real. You're great at what you do. So are we,' we can move forward and really develop this further. We've already been hitting the mark; now it's just going to get better and more exciting from here on out."

Perna says that "every night is surprising because we don't know what's going to happen" on stage, which has also been something of an adjustment for the two groups. "It's not just like us doing a normal Antibalas show," he says. "There's something more to it than that, a whole new element Mama brings to it." He foresees an opportunity "to write new stuff together and develop new stuff on the road," including five new pieces Antibalas already has written for its next album, the follow-up to a self-titled release in 2012.

Meanwhile, Antibalas and Zap Mama have also found an unlikely joining point during the shows -- "Somebody's Watching Me," the 1984 hit by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr.'s son Kennedy Gordy that featured guest vocals by Michael and Jermaine Jackson.

"It was sort of a goofy, novelty thing when it came out and it turned out to be one of the most prophetic songs of the 80s when you look at today's security and surveillance state," says Perna, 39. "It's also funny that song was written in 1984; there's a point of synchronicity there, too.

"And of course we put our Antibalas twist on it; until the first verse comes in you don't even know what it is. Then people get hit with it and they're singing along and realizing that as they're singing along in 2015 the song has a whole new meaning than it did in 1984. It's a really cool moment in the show."

Antibalas and Zap Mama

8 p.m. Friday, February 6.

Music Hall Center, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit.

Tickets are $35-$55.

Call 313-887-8501 or visit www.musichall.org.

Note: An afterparty featuring DJ Hotwaxx takes place in the Music Hall's Jazz Cafe and is free for all concert ticket holders.

Web Site: www.musichall.org

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