NOMO—the band dem-ands all caps—is all about Fela Kuti. But unlike Brooklyn’s Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, who seem like they’ve been beamed straight from Nigeria circa 1974, Michigan’s NOMO adds enough experimental jazz and various strains of West African music to create its own sound.
In many ways, NOMO is continuing the legacy of Detroit’s 1970s TRIBE collective, which mixed jazz, funk and Africana to assert its black-political identity. While bandleader Elliot Bergman isn’t of African descent, he’s absorbed the music of the Motherland and its diaspora like a 4.0 student. He mixes various strains of great black music into a single blazing sun of sound, and right from the distorted sounds of the amplified kalimba (thumb piano) that open the CD, you know NOMO is going to hit you with a hip-swiveling blast of righteous Afro-funk.
The music is densely polyrhythmic, with homemade percussion instruments nervously chattering away like mutant crickets on tracks such as “Fourth Ward” and “Nu Tones.” “Divisions” has a Latin bent and a brassy backside, and “Book of Right On” has a woozy, dubby quality because of the roomy recording style.
New Tones closes with the percussion hymnal “Sarvodaya,” a song that could have come out of the Arkestra catalog. Sun Ra would call it cosmic tones for mental therapy.