The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is not generally known for producing great Afrobeat or roots reggae bands. However, there are several little-known, high-quality examples, and they hang tight together: Reggae band Mosaic Foundation, and their Afrobeat/Afro-reggae side project Cha Cha and the Ndor Band both share singer Yao “Cha Cha” Foli Augustine, who comes from the Volta region of Ghana, and Food For Thought was produced by bassist/producer/arranger Angelo Peters from the Big Mean Sound Machine, another impressive Afrobeat band from Ithaca.

Cha Cha is a talented roots reggae singer, repping global unity and peace culture with a passion, and the band, especially drummer John Paul Nawn from Mosaic Foundation, really captures the sound and feel of classic reggae on some of the heavier tracks on Food For Thought, including: “Meditron Meditation,” a steppers riddim with a jazzy piano solo; “Great Minds,” (drummer is Andrew Klein from BMSM) and the anthemic “Can We Get Along.” 

However, the Ndor Band is equally rooted in the syncopated grooves and jazzy horns of Nigerian and Ghanaian afrobeat.  Much of the album, even the reggae tunes, feature Kwame Waddada on the gyil, a traditional xylophone from Ghana, and plenty of percussion from Kwame and Bryan Davis; these elements add layers of complexity to the already multi-dimensional rhythms. Some of the pieces are trance-like, washy electro/percussion improvisations, for example, “Hohoe,” but these same elements are also used powerfully on funky Afrobeat tunes like “One Family” and “Agbesia Me.” Overall, the production on this record is diverse, tasteful and constantly intriguing. One of the most daring moments is the slightly out-of-tune acoustic piano solo on “Can We Get Along,” and it totally succeeds—it’s intimate and spacey, reminiscent of late-night jam sessions in co-op houses.

The impetus or ulterior motive behind the project is raising funds for Ndor Eco Village, a nonprofit NGO founded by Cha Cha that is dedicated to sustainable agriculture and increased educational opportunities in Aklorbortornu, a rural village of 300 farmers and fishermen in Ghana’s Volta region. All the musicians who participate in Ndor band donate their time, and 100% of the proceeds go to Ndor Eco Village. So, check these guys out (and of course Big Mean Sound Machine and Mosaic Foundation, while you’re at it) buy their album, enjoy the music, and also support a cool project!