Like many first-time listeners, my first contact with the Golden Dawn Arkestra came during last year's SXSW. In that noisy sea of interchangeable garage bands and laptop projects, the Arkestra was exactly as advertised: otherworldly. The 13-piece band, replete with horns, dancers and percussionists in interstellar attire, staged a multisensory spectacle using v
ideo projections, dance and a sound like Funkadelic scoring a spaghetti western soundtrack set on Saturn. The Austin-based band then pulled off another SXSW marvel by shocking people into putting their phones away.
"You'd think that at our shows would have all these photos posted, but in our best shows, there's only 80 photos, because people are paying attention," said Zapot Mgwana, Golden Dawn's saxophonist and leader. "One of our missions is to really bring people out of this dimension, and especially people [who] get addicted to their phones and these other places that feel like another dimension, but are really one-dimensional. It takes a lot to take people out of that and have a transcendent experience."
For Zapot, the moniker of Austin-based musical journeyman Topaz Mcgarrigle, the band didn't begin with a clear musical direction when they formed in 2013, an approach that has allowed the Arkestra to invite a range of styles, including Ethiopian jazz, Sly Stone-styled funk and new wave disco.
"I came up with the name before anything," he said. "I think it was a cosmic mission that just unfolded organically. And since then all the musicians and dancers and designers that have been involved have just pushed it forward."
As for the band's use of the "Arkestra" title, Zapot sees the use of Sun Ra's band name as an homage rather than strict tribute. "We obviously drew a lot of inspiration from our spiritual guide Sun Ra, more visually than musically. He also came from outer space. It's more of an homage and a thank you for teaching us ways of living outside of the box."
Golden Dawn's lone recording, last year's eponymous EP, was often described as cinematic, both for its scale and multi-toned direction. Live, that cinematic feeling becomes even more enveloping, especially now that the Arkestra has recruited visual artist Bob Mustachio, who has produced video projects for the Black Angels and Levitation Fest, to provide original video projections for the S.A. show.
Zapot is currently at work with the band on their debut LP, a record he describes as bigger, grander and better than the EP in every way. Still, for a project as cosmically ambitious as Golden Dawn, the bandleader holds modest hopes, particularly for the uninitiated, for their K23 Gallery show this Friday.
"You may hate it, you may love it, but it'll be different," said Zapot. "Whatever your reaction, I at least hope that you'll put away your fucking phone."
$8, 9pm, Fri., Oct. 2, K23 Gallery, 702 Fredericksburg Rd., (210) 776-5635, facebook.com/k23gallery
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