iTunes categorizes Atomga as “world music.” Typical of corporate America, the designation is lazy and nondescript. Frank Roddy, Atomga’s tenor sax player, spelled it out for us: “We came together because of a love for Afrobeat music.”
Afrobeat took root in the ’70s, combining West African musical styles with American funk and jazz and heavily influenced by musicians like Fela Kuti and Sunny Adé, both of Nigeria. A key feature of Afrobeat is the complex, interacting rhythms, which characterize Atomga’s full-bodied music.
Roddy said the band’s name is an adaptation of the Nigerian word “atamga,” which is an ancient warrior dance originating in West Africa. The aggressive dance is accompanied by complex drum rhythms, the same types of rhythms Atomga employs to create highly danceable music.
As saxophonist Leah Concialdi put it, “Everyone should be prepared to have a good time and dance. It’s really funky, approachable music, and we like seeing people of all walks come together at our shows.”
The musicians of Atomga came together in 2010, arriving from an eclectic mix of musical backgrounds – jazz, funk, progressive rock, rock ’n’ roll – drawn together by a shared passion for Afrobeat.
Since then, “We’ve played all sorts of festivals and events in Colorado,” Concialdi said – the Crestone Music Festival, Arise, Durango Oktoberfest – but the logistics involved with a nine-person band make touring a challenge. “We’ve done a Midwest run. … We’re looking at a West Coast run.”
Atomga also performed a couple years ago in Buena Vista at the Eddyline Brewery Basecamp Jam Sessions. “We really enjoyed that show, and we’re always looking to pick up some Eddyline beer. It’s really good,” said Roddy.
The band’s Facebook page lists Fela Kuti as an important musical influence, and as guitarist Casey Hrdlicka noted, Kuti “used his music as a vehicle for spreading political beliefs about colonialism. We felt like that’s a good idea,” which brings us to the band’s socially conscious message, crafted largely by vocalist Kendra Kreie.
Kreie writes most of the lyrics, Hrdlicka said: “We come up with song names and she writes around that. She’s a great lyricist.”
But given the band’s devotion to musical integrity, the social message never weighs down the positive vibe created by three horns, a three-piece rhythm section, keys, guitar and soulful vocals. The band’s funky groove invites everyone to have a good time, but anyone picking up on the lyrics hears a positive message of more love and less greed.
As Hrdlicka said, “I think there are enough love songs out there already.”