Public Opinion Afro Orchestra play their biggest – and final – show of the year tonight at The Night Cat

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Public Opinion Afro Orchestra play their biggest – and final – show of the year tonight at The Night Cat

Public Opinion Afro Orchestra
Words by Jacob McCormack

Facilitated by The Boite – a Naarm/Melbourne based non-for-profit supporting culturally diverse artistry – Public Opinion Afro Orchestra are set to play their final show of 2022 at The Night Cat on Thursday November 17 as part of the Polyphonix series.

Not sharing a stage since the start of the pandemic, the orchestra that features 15-20 musical, and dancing contributors will be bringing their contemporary take on Afrobeat to an audience at The Night Cat. “It’s the first gig since we came out of the pandemic,” says band member Zvi Belling. “This is a special event in the sense it is organised by The Boite.”

“Our band is a modern Afrobeat group, and in order to create that sound, every member is an important and integral contributor to that sound, if you were to take out one part it would no longer be complete. So, there is a percussion section, a brass section, two guitars, a bass, a group of singers, some dancers and vocalists.”

The incredible collective is playing live tonight at The Night Cat, grab tickets here.

The upcoming gig is shaping up to be a spectacle of infectious energy that will no doubt create a party environment. Belling highlights that there will be dancing a plenty enacted by the dynamic band themselves.

“The dancers don’t just dance, they actually perform the music too, so they are singers, involved in the percussion and everything else. Generally, they are working hard throughout the entire show.”

In its typical form, Afrobeat is considered a long form music that in a way disregards temporality and rather endeavours to take the audience members on a entrancing and rhythmic journey.

“In Lagos, when Afrobeat was first invented, and when it’s played in its natural habitat, it’s a long-form music,” says Belling. “So performances can go up to three hours. The reason for the long form is the way that the music works on the audience. It’s a very hypnotic and rhythm-driven music, the longer it is played the stronger the hypnosis.”

Speaking of the forefather of Afrobeat, Belling outlines that a typical Fela Kuti song could span for nearly half an hour.

“10 minutes would be [Fela Kuti’s] very short tracks, 15 minutes is pretty well a minimum and it’s not unusual for them to go to 25 minutes.”

Unfortunately, the band seldom gets the opportunity to showcase the elongated nature of the music itself, and are often expected to confine musical sets to an hour or so.

“But in Melbourne our gigs are not really set up for those long form shows,” says Belling. “We are going to keep it to the expected hour for the show on Thursday. We don’t modify the tracks; we will just do less of them.”

Yet despite their abbreviated take on Afrobeat, Belling and the band maintain pride in the fact they were one of the first diaspora groups to adopt a sound inspired by the music of the ’60s and ‘70s.

“Recently Afrobeat orchestras have popped up in most music centres, so there is a diaspora of this music now. We were one of the early adopters; we have been going for 14 years now and at the time we were one of the first diaspora groups.”

Although upon the decision to start the orchestra, the members needed to consider how they could make the original music style more relevant to the experiences of living in Australia.

“When we were working out how we were going to make the Afrobeat music of Fela Kuti relevant to ourselves and our audience in Melbourne we had to look to some other devices,” says Belling.

“For example, looking at what hip-hop had to offer, we put raps into the formula, we’ve had DJs collaborate with us. We’ve also worked with a lot of Indigenous artists, Indigenous sounds and politics. Because Afrobeat is very much a political force in Africa and having Indigenous artists work with us here has been a platform for them to share their politics.”

Following on from the performance at The Night Cat, Public Opinion Afro Orchestra have recorded new music they intend to release in February, as well as embarking on their first trip to Tasmania as an orchestra where they are set to play Pangaea festival.

Head along to see them live at The Night Cat, grab tickets here.