Aphrodesia are great Americans. It's probably not common that an 11-piece ensemble from San Francisco, that is actively pushing the evolution of the Afrobeat idiom, would get looked at this way. But they should be. When I started following Aphrodesia back in 2004, they were touring across the country in a bus fueled by recycled vegetable oil, registering people to vote along the way. In 2006, they took a trip to West Africa, where they respectfully took from and gave to the culture. The experience inspired their latest release, Lagos by Bus.
Their actions show they're on a higher level of awareness -- actively encouraging people to vote, use clean fuel and seek out the better qualities of American culture to share. For better or worse, they don't seem concerned with the trivial aspects of the music industry. Their concerns are worldlier. While America is sleeping and becoming more and more isolated, Aphrodesia is a group that screams, "Wake up!" and then gives you a hug. Yes, they're righteous. But when you see them play, it goes even deeper.
They're engaging, making the music as communal an experience as they can. They dance and bounce off each other with a driving sound well-versed in the profound roots of African music. They're loud and charging, and even with the amount of respect they show towards tradition, their music doesn't feel forced or derivative. They never sacrifice the core humanness that comes with tradition -- you feel it in the intricate rhythms they're playing and you see how their movement with the music is so real and natural. It's apparent that they live it, breathe it and are adding their own voice to it.
Out front and center is vocalist Lara Maykovich, and she works it. From the way she dances to her decorated face, her presence is demanding. And then there's her voice: sharp, warm and inviting. Her phrasing and delivery is superb, confidently flavored with traditional Afro-Cuban influence. Yes, it's wonderful ear candy. It's all part of the Aphrodesia package that makes you want to listen again and again.
I know you've been pretty busy. You've been working on a rock opera‚ right?
I do have a rock opera‚ Venus Christ. It takes a lot of energy. It's a lot of stuff - it's more than just a rock opera.
Tell me about it.
Well‚ it started on my 33rd birthday. That's kind of how I came up with Venus Christ; it came from my Jesus year. And it came out of this big giant crazy red painting that I did that turned into this entity that became the solo character‚ called Vena Cava‚ who's a severed half of the human heart. She's kind of symbolic of the pain of humanity and the pain of separation‚ mostly meaning the separation from the divine. And it's also kind of a commentary on the feminine being extracted from the concept of God. It's a little bit biblical. Jesus is in it‚ obviously‚ there's an actual character called Venus Christ‚ Lilith the first woman is in it‚ Eve is in it. And it's mostly these women‚ historical women‚ telling their stories and shedding a new light on the feminine face of the divine. Venus Christ as a concept is like Christ being the anointed and Venus being the anointer‚ and Mary Magdalene also kind of being in that lineage of Isis‚ Venus. And what I mean by Venus Christ as a concept is that it's the anointer‚ the anointed‚ self initiation and also the union of masculine and feminine. I don't know the word right offhand‚ but Caroline Casey -- I don't know if you've ever heard her speak -- but the original origin of the word God isn't masculine; it's plural‚ meaning masculine and feminine.
Do you feel like this is in a way telling a story that is a reaction? Because in a lot of ways so much of the stories we know are based on a male perspective. And it's one that determined the female role.
Do you think it's kind of a reaction to that? Not reaction‚ but exposing a different perspective‚ a truer perspective?
Yes‚ I do. I think it might have started as a reaction‚ but it definitely offers a totally new perspective. Maybe not new. Maybe really old‚ but a revised connection to it. And it's been in several different incarnations‚ but now we're doing it where each character is giving a testimony. So this most recent one that we're working on is super wild and futuristic. One of our characters‚ Maya [Dorn]‚ who is in Aphrodesia‚ she and I wrote it together pretty much and wrote all the music. Her character is called Dr. Andromeda‚ and basically she time travels and my character‚ Vena Cava‚ is her dismembered heart‚ and she has to travel back in time to recover her lost lover. But in doing so‚ she gets interfered with by this futuristic digital deity called Robo-God‚ who fucks with her and thrusts her into the future where world religious power has turned God into a computer who raped human consciousness and stole everyone's human nature and turned everyone into robots. So there's this army of robots and this technological wasteland.
[laughs]. That's awesome.
You can see why I've had my hands full with this thing.
Is this the first time you've gotten into something like this?
Yeah. I mean‚ well‚ I went to a school called Naropa University in Boulder‚ Colorado‚ and I did study performance art and actually did my first piece of this nature there in 1995. It was a solo piece. I called it Ritual Performance Art at the time‚ and it was really similar in development. It came from a painting that I did‚ and I embodied this painting by shaving my head and painting myself blue and going through this ritual. This painting is representative of‚ like‚ a dream double. So I've done little bits and pieces. When I first discovered that‚ it was like‚ "Wow! This is my true form‚" but it's really complicated because it's my writing‚ my visual art‚ music‚ dance. And so it's overloading even now‚ and so for a time I just really had to focus on one of those things and got really into music at that point. So‚ you know‚ it's always been there. I've still been painting and writing‚ but these past couple years is the first time that I've been actually involving a large collective of people and actually doing full-scale performances.
That's good to bring it all together finally. Sometimes it takes a long time.
We should talk about Aphrodesia. The band is going to be very angry if they find that I've been talking about Venus Christ this whole time. [laughter]
All right‚ let's get into it. Well‚ I've been following the band for quite some time now. And I always look at you guys as being great Americans.
Great Americans?