Pink Hawks Reinvent Their Sound, Again

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Blending sounds from around the globe is nothing new for Pink Hawks, the Denver world-music powerhouse led by saxman and singer Yuzo Nieto. The band has pulled funky rhythmic influences from West Africa and South America, but the latest addition to its sound comes from much closer to home.

That would be hip-hop artist Molina Speaks, who joined Pink Hawks about six months ago and is ready to make his recorded debut on the band’s new EP, Medicine, set for release this Friday, October 2.

“He’s toyed around with us before, but now he’s officially in the group,” says Nieto. “He’s added an element that I always thought was kind of natural.”

The addition of hip-hop to the Pink Hawks repertoire continues a progression that has seen the band adopt sounds from all over the world, all melding around a rock-solid core of African music.

“We modernized this thing that’s sort of a throwback to the ’70s,” says Nieto. “It’s based on the Afrobeat movement of the ’70s and ’80s — the African funk movement that mainly started in Nigeria.”

Pink Hawks began with Afrobeat but later adapted Latin rhythms as well. Despite the geographic distance, the two have many similarities. Nieto says that understanding African history makes the connections more obvious.

“To me, it’s basically a result of the African diaspora,” he says.

In a nutshell, people from West Africa were spread around North and South America through the slave trade. The musical traditions of African people evolved differently wherever they wound up, but always with the same traditions at their core. It makes sense, then, that Afrobeat, jazz, blues and other traditionally black musical forms would have strong parallels, Nieto says.

“I think that’s the link. At the heart of our music is the West African polyrhythmic tradition. You can hear completely different genres from different times that have the exact same rhythm.”

He likens the evolution of Afrobeat to that of the whale.

“The whale was a creature that was from the sea, became a land mammal, then went back to the sea,” he says.

Likewise, African music came to America, where it evolved into jazz, funk and soul; later, it was reinterpreted by modern musicians back in Africa.

“There’s African soul in Ghana and Guinea, but they did a different kind of soul in Ethiopia,” says Nieto. “It’s cool to see it in different places.”
Hip-hop isn’t the only new twist found on Medicine. Nieto and company also explore the fusion of disco with African rhythms.

“I initially thought I’d invented that,” says Nieto, “but I found out there has been some already.” Still, he adds, “it’s a pretty original thing.”

Pink Hawks EP-release show, 7 p.m. Friday, October 2, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, $15, 303-993-8023.

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