“Give that baby water / And bath her in the garden of the sun / Give that baby water / Cause water will go back to where it is from / Freedom” ~ Give That Baby Water by Aniba Hotep & the Sol Collective
In April of 2010, I developed a serious audiophile obsession after being within earshot of a group known as Aniba Hotep & the Sol Collective. I later discovered they had released an album entitled “Sol of a Goddess” which I knew was a must have for my audio collection. While they had a website posted, the Paypal link on the site wasn’t active for processing payment. Neither deterred nor defeated, I reached out to some band members I found to be part of my social network. I was not in the least disappointed for my effort. The album was a warm, lush concoction of live instrumentation and layered vocal arrangements which fulfilled long forgotten musical yearnings and sauntered gently through my ears. It was indeed and in fact a delicious assemblage of sound. I later went on to purchase their follow up EP “The SOLution” which continued the tradition of beautiful music established in the orchestration of this first album.
With all of the enjoyment I had experienced from recorded material, I had not yet seen them play a live show despite numerous opportunities having arisen. On October 22nd, I decided to rectify that as I sat in Wicker Park at Jerry’s sipping on one too many bottles of a generous selection of hard ciders: Ase Pear, Hard Julian and Original Sin. This might not have been such a terrible thing were it not for the fact that I had spent much of the day in my role at the Healthy Food Hub as the Dancing Cashier. By the time I arrived at the show, I was acutely exhausted. Never afraid to push the envelope in writing, dance or life, I took the time to wet my face and kept busy etching at my notebook until the show started so that drowsiness would not overtake me.
I took down a few observations about the venue which seemed a slight small to me. We in the artistic world classify these spaces as cozy when drawing your attention away from the fact that you should be careful not to bump the person to your rear when exiting to the restroom. I didn’t make any bones about that as it would certainly make for a more intimate concert experience. I noted the eclectic, artful decor; the warm, ambient lighting. Jerry’s had done well to set the mood for those whose sojourn here found them on date night.
While I sat nursing the first cider, one of the hosts came to ask me if I might be able to change my seat in order to accommodate two sisters wanting to be seated together. This shifted me from the long side of the table to the seat on the end which to my delight turned out to be center floor and the most optimum viewing angle for the main event. The show set in motion just after 10:30 pm when “The Big Payback” sounded the triumphant onset of a playful jam session amongst the members of the Sol Collective. The crowd warmed up while fingers snapped and shouts of musical approval were bandied about generously.
The background vocalists made their way to the stage first in fabulously fitted blue pantsuits. Aniba came forward shortly thereafter in what appeared to be a black sash, blue halter and black pants though I Iater came to wonder if the color of the pants might not have been a deception of lighting. The band brought the change up and suddenly we were engulfed in a Sol Collective rendition of The Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” which found the musicians playing a little too loudly against the vocals, but still extending forward the playfulness of the opening jam session. Suddenly a question struck me as I examined each aspect of the stage, “Are they barefoot?” I was tickled in the deepest part of my belly at that realization, the intimacy of this minor detail only serving to enchant me further. After I watched the EPK a few more times, I realized that they play most of their dates in a similarly Earth-grounded manner. As a dancer who delights in any excuse for going barefoot, I honor that.
The selection that followed listed in my notes only as “Sweet Talker” found the vocals much tighter with some intriguing drum transitions. By the time they had set themselves upon “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul Now?” and “Waiting On You”, I was thoroughly delighted by their choice of complex vocal arrangements in both cover songs and original material. Aniba proved unafraid to play staccato over the track or add new flavor to well established songs using jazz and gospel technique claiming the voice as its own magnificent instrument.
“Sweet Thing” was remixed with all of the buttery soft and soulful nostalgia that Chaka’s original invoked as she vocally looped the opening line “I will love you anyway”. The Sol Collective’s rendition of “It’s Love” found all of these abilities colliding inside of a single song. Aniba, Neri and Caress’ choral interplay and the band’s skillful smooth transition indicative of classic jam session musicianship showed in their skill for claiming a contemporary cut with a still strong resonance. Aniba again played with the levels in her voice in similar character to Jill’s own antics on the original song until the band threw us a head spin by playing the break from “Da Butt” before changing back to the closing harmonies from “It’s Love” to end the first set.
The group went on to play 3 more sets that evening. This first set was described as “Uptempo”. Set number two was “Soft Soul’. Set number three was “Jazz”. Set number four was described simply as “Soul”. The highlight of the second set was a gem that seems to absent from both of their albums which I think was called “Landmark” during which Aniba recounted living in Virginia for many years and coming to Chicago to start a new life. This combination of lyrics and words that I drew down for my notes entailed the following “Don’t stay where you have already left / I don’t want to be your landmark / Runaway / Say everything you’ve ever wanted to say to me / Cause I don’t know when I’ll be coming back to town”. This year marks her 34th year on the planet. While I was playing the “Sol of a Goddess” album at a recent Healthy Food Hub Market Day, Dr. Jifunza’s ears perked up and asked “Who is that? Aretha?” “No Dr. J. That’s Aniba Hotep & the Sol Collective.” I think that mistake on the part of a listener from a generation steeped in soul should portend all you need to know about how deeply the Sol Collective has mined the soul tradition of the past while being attentive to the evolution of the future landscape of soul music. Check out their EPK below and when you are done, visit their fan page on Facebook so that you won’t have any excuse for not being in the front row of their next show. Your so(u)l will undoubtedly be replenished.