UNDERGROUND SYSTEM BRINGS THE AFRO-DISCO-BEAT HEAT
By Sound Check
June 11, 2019
Undergound System is a big band that’s been playing a mixture of disco and Afrobeat in NYC for about a decade. At times, the members of the group — which can stretch into a 10-piece, but whose core features Domenica Fossati (vocals/flute), Peter Matson (guitar/production), Lollise Mbi (shekere/vocals), Olatunji Tunji (congas), Carter Yasutake (synths/trumpet), Yoshio Kobayashi (drums), and Jon Granoff (bass) — break down their instruments and turn into DJs.
That’s what they’ll be doing at AFROPUNK Brooklyn in August.
Underground System recently dropped a new video for the single “Just a Place,” which will give you some flavor of the collective’s anti-authoritarian, pro-party ideals.
AFROPUNK asked Domenica and Peter to tell us about where Underground System vision comes from and what the AFROPUNK Brooklyn audience is likely to meet when they come to dance to the beats in late August. Here’s what they told us.
AFROPUNK: The band’s shares its name with a Fela Kuti song which, considering the influence of Afrobeat on the group’s sound, does not feel like coincidence. Can you talk a little bit about that influence on the group’s music, and how you think that sound and Fela’s philosophy are important in 2019.
UNDERGROUND SYSTEM: The band was born out of a love of playing Fela’s music, so the connection with the name was very literal at the beginning — an homage to Fela’s last record. As the groups direction has evolved into an original place over the years, we still find ourselves referencing the manner in which Fela so strongly intertwined musical devices and social commentary within his work. In our case, we’re a crew with roots all over the world that all met in New York. We deal with a different daily reality than 1970’s Lagos, but we feel the way we combine our varied musical influences with personally relevant social commentary strongly reflects the ideals in the roots of Fela’s music.
Underground System has been a mainstay on New York’s music scene for the past few years. Where do you think you fit in? Who are your kindred spirits?
We think we’ve found a bit of our own niche at this point, which helped us establish ourselves recently. We’re usually caught somewhere between the club scene and live venues, which is a fun intersection to play around in. I think a lot of our peers and influences occupy similar spaces both musically and attitude wise. Some of our favorite groups are our friends! Sinkane, Midnight Magic, !!! (chk chk chk), Combo Chimbita, Antibalas, Adeline, and the list goes on….
You’ll be DJing at AFROPUNK Brooklyn in August. What are you most looking forward to in that experience? Are there one or two tracks that you are most excited to drop for the AFROPUNk audience?
We can’t wait to play! Looking forward to bringing our style of DJing to the AFROPUNK stage. When we’re not playing live, we all spend a ton of time in clubs and DJing solo, and we’ve developed a flow that incorporates our knowledge of dance music with an added live sensibility. Domenica will play flute on top of certain tracks and we’ll hopefully get some live percussion going too…. We just dropped a 12″ remix record this week on Soul Clap, so we’re psyched to share some of those!