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Albino! at the Historic Ashland Armory

Afrobeat comes to Ashland Saturday when Albino!, the 10-piece San Francisco-based ensemble, performs a benefit concert for Voter Power that starts at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21, at the Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., Ashland. Doors open at 8 p.m.

Ashland is one stop on a nine-show, winter 2009 tour for the band that took top honors at the SF Music Awards for "Best World Music." Their high-energy grooves and explosive stage show keep alive the legacy of Nigerian musical icon and political outlaw Fela Kuti, who popularized Afrobeat music in the 1970s.

That sound, with its hypnotic percussion, heavy horns and sophisticated harmonies, borrowed considerably from the traditions of jazz and funk. Kuti added socially conscious lyrical messages.

Albino! adds to the mix with extended solo improvisations, an intricately arranged four-piece horn section, dance, wild costumes, painted faces and elaborate group choreography. According to the SF Weekly, "This is world music that lives up to its name."

The band was formed in 2003 and has already made a name for itself in jazz circles. In March the band will kick off the SF JAZZ 2009 Spring Season at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Last summer Albino! played for more than 5,000 people at the Montreal Jazz Festival. The band also performed at Yoshi's jazz club in Oakland, Calif., last summer.

Albino! won a hard-core fan base at Nevada's Burning Man event and band members have said they're looking forward to connecting with Ashland's Burning Man community. Albino! always encourages "burners" to attend their shows wearing "playa" attire reminiscent of the desert festival.

On this tour, Albino! will feature a preview of material from its second studio album, which was recorded in Colorado on the heels of a national tour and mixed by Dan Prothero of Fog City Records. The album is now in the final stages of production and will be released this spring.

The concert will benefit Voter Power, a nonprofit organization that advocates for reasonable, fair and effective marijuana laws and policies, and educates, registers and empowers voters to implement those policies.

Voter Power has offices in Portland, Medford, Eugene and Sutherlin. For more information, visit the Web site at voterpower.org.

Alex Rogers, outreach coordinator for Voter Power, said he was happy to have arranged for Albino! to perform in Southern Oregon.

"They did a show in the Applegate in September," Rogers said. "Three hundred people came."

Rogers described the band's sound as "retro with a new-school twist. They appeal across the spectrum, from 20-somethings to 50-somethings."

As part of its tour, Albino! will perform in British Columbia and share the bill in Eugene with legendary Zimbabwean vocalist Thomas Mapfumo.

Albino! features Michael Bello on lead vocals, saxes, and keyboards. The four-piece horn section includes Bello on tenor sax, Nathan Endsley, Chris Brown and Pat Byers. Anchoring the rhythm section is Jon Arkin on drums. Dancer and chekere player Kim Agnew fuses West African, Cuban, and salsa dance styles into her performances.

On bass is Mark Calderon. Tenor guitarist is Cal Reichenbach, and on rhythm guitar is Jacob Groopman. Covering congas is percussionist Matthew Smith.

Opening for Albino! will be local band Oregon Transplant and aerial artist Susanita. There will be giveaways, as well as a beer and wine garden.

Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Tickets are available at the Musi=c Coop, The Pita Pit and Puffs in Ashland; the Dragon Fire Smoke Shop and the Voter Power Office in Medford; Listen Here in Grants Pass; and Williams General Store in Williams.

Call 510-303-4731.

The Afrobeat band Albino! will perform a benefit concert in Ashland this weekend which also features Oregon Transplant and aerial artist Susanita. - Albino