The Narcotix is a West African art-folk band based in Brooklyn, with feathers all over. It is many-limbed and limber, a five-piece with voices, guitars, bass, keys and drum set. Reverb-laden vocals blur and swell in dissonant intervals, buoyed by a riverbed of shimmering Congolese guitar riffs, thumping P-bass, cavernous synths and traphouse hi-hats. The result is a compelling musical statement whose relationship to identity is as fraught, complex and ever-changing as anything else in this time.
Composers Esther Quansah (guitars, vocals) and Becky Foinchas (keys, vocals) met in an elementary school chorus class in the ghostly woodlands of Woodbridge, Virginia. The daughters of African immigrants (Quansah from Cote D’Ivoire and Foinchas from Cameroon), they soaked up influences as far-flung and varied as choral symphonies, African wedding music, and progressive math rock, distilling them through a unique lens.
While attending the University of Virginia, Foinchas and Quansah met Sierra Leonean guitarist Adam Turay, showing him their compositions and bonding over a shared love of both avant-pop music like early Grizzly Bear and Stereolab and African music like the intricate soukous guitar rhythms of Koffi Olomide and the pulsing chimurenga of Thomas Mapfumo. They became interested in applying these ideas to popular western forms, using unconventional ways to arrive at accessibility. The nascent Narcotix found a home in the DIY venues and house shows of Charlottesville and Richmond, merging meticulous, vocal-driven arrangements with raucous performances.
Quansah, Foinchas and Turay relocated to Brooklyn in 2017, developing their West African-inspired psych-folk concept and playing at clubs and venues like Rockwood Music Hall, C’mon Everybody, Berlin and Mercury Lounge. Galvanized by these live experiences, the Narcotix embarked on tours from Brooklyn to SXSW, driving through the American South in the midst of significant political upheaval and touring the Bay Area and L.A. a year later.
The full ensemble came together after a few years in the city. The Narcotix met Matt Bent–a virtuosic drummer and electronic musician–through mutual friends in Brooklyn’s DIY music scene. Bent hails from Red Bank, New Jersey and plays music that consistently honors and challenges the storied jazz history of the city (home to pianist Count Basie among others). He plays everything from straight-ahead jazz to drum and bass, and ambient music. Other projects include Beshken, CGI Jesus, Kopps, the Saplings, Harpsichord Kush and more.
New England Conservatory alum Jesse Heasly rounds out the rhythm section, his pocket bass playing and harmonic sensibilities providing an ideal complement to the music. He is a skilled player on both upright and electric basses, and composes ambient and electronic music on the Casio CZ-5000. An East Coast secret weapon, he has played, recorded and toured internationally with countless artists including Lina Tullgren, Tredici Bocci, Kateboard, and Spirits Having Fun; the last two groups feature his wife, Katie McShane.