Marcos Garcia takes different approaches grounded in afrobeat for the two bands he plays in—Antibalas and Here Lies Man. In the former, he sticks to chords and single-note rhythms; Here Lies Man is all about big fuzzy riffs.
Photo by Sandy Carson
What do you get when you cross the heavy riffs of Black Sabbath with the afrobeat rhythms of Fela Kuti?
A. A mess.
B. A neurotic giraffe.
C. The band Here Lies Man.
If you answered “C,” you’re right. Here Lies Man, the brainchild of Antibalas guitarist Marcos Garcia, is a surprisingly natural synthesis of afrobeat and heavy metal.
Maybe, but—like chocolate and peanut butter—those two seemingly disparate styles naturally jell in Garcia’s hands.
Garcia stumbled upon the idea in the studio. “I was noodling around, shedding a Fela Kuti song called ‘Yellow Fever,’” he says. “I was playing the tenor guitar part—basically, the single note counterpoint to the bass line—and all of a sudden I imagined what it would sound like with fuzz. I thought, ‘Man, Tony Iommi could have played this,’ and ding! The lightbulb went off.”
But Garcia was busy with the Fela-inspired Antibalas and his electronic afrobeat project, Chico Mann, and it took another 10 years before he teamed up with drummer Geoff Mann and launched Here Lies Man. “Geoff was the missing link that allowed me to finally develop the idea,” he says. “Just having that swing and having the rock ’n’ roll references, but also knowing how afrobeat works rhythmically. There’s a musical vocabulary we’re employing that we both draw from, and there needs to be a fluency for each of us. Geoff just got it. It was great. I remember saying, ‘I feel like you’re reading my mind.’ We were moving together because we were both fluent in this vocabulary.”
That vocabulary—the larger-than-life riffs of early metal combined with afrobeat’s clave-centric approach to groove—are the foundation of Here Lies Man’s sound. It’s heavy, but it isn’t plodding or monotonous, and it induces the same transportive, mantra-like state of the best afrobeat.
“I feel like scientists need to do a study about this,” Garcia says regarding his music’s trance-like nature. “Put some sensors on the brain and read what happens to the brainwave activity. I am convinced there is something going on there.”
But grooves and spirituality aside, Garcia is also a bona fide gear junkie, and Here Lies Man’s recent release, You Will Know Nothing, is a testament to his never-ending tone quest. The album drips with fuzz, which he conjures using myriad stompboxes and an enviable collection of vintage Ampeg V-4s. That gear, plus a small army of slightly modded Les Pauls, fills Garcia’s toolbox.
We discussed those tools with Garcia, as well as his intimate knowledge of clave and groove, the making of You Will Know Nothing, and his thoughts about rock ’n’ roll’s African roots.
Your band is a lot smaller than a typical afrobeat ensemble. How do you work out your arrangements so you’re covering all the parts?
One of the main things, in the smaller format, is to distill the musical ideas into the simplest forms and use that as the jumping-off point. In afrobeat, you have all these layers that are usually two-bar figures—sometimes four-bar figures—and they create this much more dense arrangement. My concept is to boil that down to what is really the most compelling part and then build off of that. At most, there will be three layers if the bass, guitar, and keyboards are all playing counterpoint. These are melodic layers. I am not talking about the drums. The other part is to let the drums shine. Geoff has so much to say musically, even if we do break into a three-part counterpoint, he is still driving the whole thing.
Plus, the timbre of the distorted guitar is much thicker.
Exactly. When the guitar is fuzzed out it takes up a lot more space than it would in traditional afrobeat.
Job one for tracking the new album was cutting guitar and drum tracks together, live. Then overdubbing began. “Once I get the interplay with Geoff happening and we have that captured, I can track to that,” says Garcia.
How did you develop your approach to clave, groove, and polyrhythms?
I grew up with Cuban music. My dad was a record producer and I grew up with Latin music. To a certain extent, when you grow up around it, you absorb it. But it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I really started getting into Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban music. Once you really digest it, it becomes part of you. I think that what you don’t hear a lot of in rock ’n’ roll is music that follows the clave. You have different bands that play Spanish rock or some kind of Latin rock, but rock ’n’ roll is typically straight ahead. Sometimes you can find the clave, but for me, the clave is the starting point. There are always going to be two sides of a phrase. It’s like a call side and a response side. At the simplest level, that’s really what it is. Instead of playing straight eighth-notes or quarter-notes chugging away straight through, every tune runs on a circle. There’s always going to be two sides to that circle and you can flip which side you’re accenting.
Meaning that every phrase has a second phrase that answers it?
Every phrase is composed of two parts. There’s the front side and there is the back side, and you can accent one or the other. The most famous clave that everyone knows is [Bo Diddley’s] “Hey! Bo Diddley.” There is the three side and there is the two side. You can focus on either side. It depends on what you want to emphasize on any one part of the song. The fact that it’s binary allows for all this extra syncopation that can cross over the clave.
Is it syncopation or do you do polyrhythms, like two against three or three against four?
No. Typically, not so much. There are the permutations of the clave. You get into some interesting polyrhythmic-feeling rhythms when you start crossing over the clave. Like dotted eighth-notes or triplets cross over to the other side of the clave and you won’t realign until you’ve passed two cycles of the clave. That’s where you get more complex and closer to the Afro-Cuban innovation on African music.
But when you’re playing, I assume it’s intuitive.
Yeah. It is funny to talk about it because it really is something that you just you feel. It is never something that I am trying to premeditate or think too much about. Something about the clave, which is the most wonderful thing about it, is that it has a trance-inducing effect on the human mind. The repetition of rhythm will induce different states of mind—brainwave activity, I think—and when you really give yourself in to it, it becomes easier to hear the permutations of the clave and how they cross over.
Is that why afrobeat songs are usually so long?
Yeah. It is meant to induce this other state. In that state you are more receptive to whatever the message is. In Fela’s music, the message was resistance and political in nature. Most Western people tend not to have the attention span for that amount of time when listening to music. I don’t necessarily exclude myself from that, at times. So for me, taking that and making it something that’s accessible to everyone is preferable. Our recorded tunes tend to last three or four minutes, and then live they can stretch out. There is plenty of room to stretch out onstage and improvise, but when it comes to the recordings, I want it to be accessible to people.