By John Benson
From the start, New York City musician Dawn Drake knew she wanted to create a band that would attract attention for its music and name.
“We are a female-fronted Afro-Latin-funk, all-original band,” said Drake, calling from the Big Apple. “We draw a lot of influences from Fela Kuti, pretty much the founder of the Afrobeat genre from Nigeria. We use a lot of the rhythmic elements of the Afrobeat, and then the piano and horns are very much influenced by Latin or Cuban music, which I studied also.”
Musically focused from the start, Drake said early on she had, well, some issues with the act’s earlier names, ranging from Dawn Drake’s PMX (PMS confusion), Dawn Drake’s Chill-ganic Funk Ensemble (self-explanatory heinousness) and Dawn Drake & Flotation Device (breast-implant reference).
Finally, she decided on Dawn Drake & ZapOte, which is the name of a Cuban fruit. So far, the tasty act has released one full-length album and two EPs. Up next is another album this fall, which will be focused around the group’s Afrobeat influences. An active musician in New York City’s African, Brazilian and Latin music scene, Drake started her career as a bass player and percussionist. She studied and played congas and bat ° in Cuba, samba percussion in Brazil, and even shared the stage with Me’shell N’degeocello and Trey Anastasio.
Dawn Drake & ZapOte makes its Youngstown debut Monday at the Lemon Grove.
“We have fans who are into adult contemporary, and I also do have hipsters who are into Afrobeat, which is kind of a hip genre right now,” Drake said. “There’s a lot of retro music out there now that’s popular like The Dap-Kings and Amy Winehouse, Antibalas. What throws people off is when they see that we’re all women. Unfortunately, I feel like female musicians are still kind of rare in some places, so that definitely gets us some looks. Still, people start moving around as soon as they hear us. We usually get a pretty good response.”
Let’s go back for a second. What exactly do these hipsters look like?
“Gosh, this is a hard question,” Drake said. “I don’t know what they look like in Youngstown, but they have chains and jeans and plaid shirts and long bangs for hair. This is the New York City hipster. Of course, an audience is an audience.”
Drake said even though her act’s music doesn’t necessarily fall into the jam-band aesthetic, she’s found people who enjoy such festivals as Bonnaroo have gravitated to the group.
“People are just going to see something different that might open their eyes and ears a little bit,” Drake said. “My lyrics are conscious; I talk about world issues, so hopefully they’ll come out having experienced something new and feeling good about it.”