If Mifune had simply been the band that got unplugged by Tower City mall management for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts when they played there during Tri-C JazzFest 2006, they'd be long forgotten. Instead, the group used the ensuing publicity as a springboard for their excellent debut CD, Afro-electronique, released that fall. Taking its title from the band's name for their own music, they showcased their alluring blend of Afrobeat, funk, soul, pop, hip-hop and electronic dance music.
The group returns with Time Is Watching Us, which synthesizes similar elements with greater smoothness and confidence - whether it's the horn section percolating on the disc-opening Afrobeat of "3 Hours On, 3 Hours Off" and the exultant "Joy and Revolution," the jaunty Afro-funk of "Be Human" or the shimmering yet vibrant atmospherics of "Know Your Situation." The group has always made music that's suitable for either listening or dancing; if anything, they've enhanced both sides of the equation with their intricate arrangements, sinuous melodies and thoughtful lyrics, coupled with insinuating beats.
Singer Christine Fader, guitarist/keyboardist Jacob Fader, keyboardist/percussionist Cutty, bassist Corbett Hein, drummer Jeremy Miller, trumpeter Brian Kleve and trombonist SkinnyK have become a much more intuitive and tightly functioning unit. That's what they tried to capture on the new disc, says Cutty.
"We definitely had a goal in mind," he says. "The original concept was to try to capture our live sound a little more. I feel like [the first album] captured a certain entity of it but not the live entity. A lot of the songs on it were a result of me, Jacob and Christine writing to entice people into the group. This effort is more reflective of the collaboration of a group. The first album had a pressed feel because we borrowed recording equipment and had the stuff for only five weeks. This album we recorded in our own studio with our own equipment, and Jake mixed the whole album. It wasn't contingent on anyone else's benevolence."
He adds that a couple of years of playing together had an impact on the sound.
"We're still very influenced by Afrobeat music, but I think we've made a lot more of a definitive statement on the way we play that music since we've been able to absorb and play it over the last couple of years," he says. "There's a lot more of our own filter on that. I think we've also become more comfortable in the songs that aren't Afrobeat. The first album we did, the horn section was still an extra entity. We hadn't been on the road yet, which always tightens groups up. I feel like we've grown a lot more in our art together."
Mifune has been rapidly expanding their reach in the past year. With Cutty and Jacob Fader doing half the booking and a recently acquired agent in Michigan helping out, the group has been playing in Michigan, Illinois and Pittsburgh. They've also developed an Introduction to Afrobeat program for grades K-6, which they book through arts education group Young Audiences. With a new album, they hope to expand even more, including possibly a trip to Europe. Meanwhile, they are promising local fans a pull-out-all-the-stops show at the Grog Shop Friday, augmented by the Solarfire Light Show. As for the mute Bush-bashing incident that put the band on peoples' radar, Cutty says, they didn't intend for it to be polarizing.
"But everything that happened off that has been positive - the conversations that started up, some of online threads when it spread through the country," he says. "We couldn't have bought the publicity. I think it's ironic now, with it almost being chic, even with former supporters to go, 'Oh yeah, George Bush is bad.' It's become a lot more popular to be on our side!"
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