Ordinarily, The Muppets-esque puppetry and class warfare have no reason to co-mingle, so it’s really quite a delight that Antibalas’ video for “Dirty Money”—the opening track off the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat outfit’s self-titled fifth and latest record—found a way to pour these two disparate elements into one fascinating vessel. The clip focuses on the puppet characters of Samuel Wallbucks, a septuagenarian corporate kingpin, and a schlubby, unnamed white-collar employee who works at Wallbucks Towers until he is fired and/or laid off. The employee makes a couple of suicide attempts after leaving his post, but each time, Wally tosses him concessions—a few gold coins here, a rope made out of dollars there. Nevertheless, the unemployed fellow still holds some animosity, so he begins destroying the Towers with a hammer. This turns out to be a surprisingly efficient method of inflicting damage. Then, the video jumps to a scene of both Wallbucks and his former underling enthusiastically dancing in front of a $2 bill. The whole affair finally ends with the one-percenter literally exploding into cash.
The specific message driving the “Dirty Money” vid is unclear, but Antibalas’ fondness for sociopolitical music itself is absolutely crystal. The 11-piece follow in the groundwork laid by issues-minded Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, even spending a two-year stint as the house band of Fela!, the Broadway show based on Kuti’s life. Owing to this link, Antibalas make sure their salty-sweet potpourri of big horns and bigger rhythms frequently has something to say. The 2004 track “Who Is This America Dem Speak of Today?” rhetorically asked who the country belongs to, and “The Rat Catcher” from Antibalas explores how the concept of American freedom has unfolded after 9/11. Ever since baritone saxophonist Martín Perna established the group 14 years ago, they have led many a sweaty dance party, but fully absorbing the Antibalas experience means using your feet at their shows and your brain with all their other material.
Thurs., Dec. 13, 9pm. $15-$18. With West Philadelphia Orchestra. Union Transfer, 1024 Spring Garden St. 215.232.2100. utphilly.com