“WE CONCEIVED SILA & THE AFRO funk Experience to describe a melding of two continents,” says San Francisco Bay Area native Wendell Rand. “The frontman, Sila, was Kenyan, and the other principal players were American.” In 2009, Sila and the band parted ways. With his lo-fi, raw tone and super-supportive style, Rand continues to lead the Afrofunk Experience into new territories pertaining to the African diaspora. He and drummer Paul Oliphant also power the more electronically oriented ensemble Afrolicious.
What does Afrofunk mean to you?
Afrofunk is a mixture of American and African dance music. My bass playing is mostly influenced by the black American players who informed modern African dance music. For example, I immediately hear Verdine White in the lyrical bass line to Fela Kuti’s “O.D.O.O. (Overtake Don Overtake Overtake).” When I hear the 6/8 bass line on “Naam” by Christy Azuma and Uppers International, Fred Thomas’ playing on James Brown’s “Doing It to Death” comes to mind.
What is unique about locking down an Afrofunk feel compared to American funk?
The biggest difference is where the bass line starts and ends; it’s not necessarily on the one. Fela Kuti’s “Confusion Break Bones” is a good example of an elusive count. The tune has a three-against-four feel, and the bass comes in on beat three playing a four-beat phrase. On “Mesquite,” from the new Afrofunk Experience record, I actually do come in on the one, but our drummer Paul’s first note is on the snare.
That’s another principal difference. You’re not necessarily going to lock with the kick playing Afrobeat like you usually do playing American dance music. The Fela song “Lady” is a good example; “Authority Stealing” is another.
If you had to choose only one bass to use on every gig from now on, which would you bring and why?
I’d have to choose my Modulus VJ because of its durability. It stays true to its setup and it’s in tune no matter where on the planet I take it, which is especially impressive considering my aggressive plucking style. I pull very hard. I do slap and pop with AFE, which is why I mostly play Lakland 5-strings with roundwounds for those gigs.
What are your thoughts on slapping as it pertains to Afrobeat and Afrofunk?
It’s just not done in Afrobeat because it doesn’t sound right with the feel. I won’t slap unless the tune has more of an American funk style, like “Ambush” from Sila & the Afrofunk Experience’s The Funkiest Man in Africa [Visila, 2006].
What’s your take on effects?
I don’t think bass effects work in large ensembles, because they draw attention, and I believe that the support role of the bass is especially important when there’s a big band onstage like the Afrofunk Experience or Afrolicious. I get off on being in the center of it all, and driving the dynamic along with the energy of the audience. There’s no other feeling like that in the world.
HEAR HIM ON
Sila & the Afrofunk Experience, Black President [Visila, 2009]
VJ Bass, Lakland Skyline 55-01, Subway Guitars custom P-style bass, Subway Guitars custom J-style bass
Rig SWR SM-500 and 750x heads, SWR Henry the 8x8 and Triad cabinets, Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI
Strings DR Lo-Riders (.045–.150), various flatwound and half-round sets