Seby Ntege

SebyNtege

14.10.18

Green Notes (Camden)

Walking into the small an intimate Green Notes venue in Camden, a wave of heat is the first thing to greet you, but second to that was a wall of incredible energy and sound bursting from the stage, that just managed to hold Seby Ntege and his four piece band. 

The groove reminded me of surfing waves, although played on a kora and accompanied by Angel Motoka on vocal harmonies, Seby Ntege, a multi-instrumentalist from Uganda swaps his 22 stringed West-African lute: the kora, for a African drum: the djembe.

The stamina of the band exceeded expectation, Seby himself is one of the most jolly characters in music, with a cheeky smile and a laugh that cracks out during every moment: a contagious laugh that kept the audience in high spirits, chuckling in between each song, the guitarist Sherratt was also funny, cracking jokes and adding to the positive vibes. 

During the set Seby played many instruments from his home in Uganda, including a Akogo, a type of kalimba: which is a small thumb piano. He also played a smaller version of a kora, an adungu, as well as engalabi and djembe percussion. 

When playing the akogo during one song, it sounded as though it was possessed through a wah wah pedal, which I’d never heard on a thumb piano. Sebys album ‘5 Notes’ of which the concert was promoting as part of their tour: is about in London for the past 15 years, and how he misses the 5 note pentatonic music from his home town, whilst still enjoying London. In this way, I think you could feel the message of fusion between the two lands for Seby in some noticeably western musicalities, such as the wah wah on the akogo.

Seby code switched between his home languages and English, all lyrics delivered passionately and elaborately, emotions etched completely in Sebys expressions and delivery. 

The songs were mostly upbeat, happy, prompting ‘whoops’ and encouraging cries from the audience at times, as well as musical clapping, singing along and even during a couple of tunes sporadic dancing erupted throughout the hole space.

The electric guitar was a treat, seeming that Sherratt had fully embodied the music Seby plays as they trill off one another cyclically in characteristic guitar styles of West Africa. Bass player Lucas also completely dissolved in the music is actually credited with producing ‘5 Notes’. 

The rapport between band members was happy and fun, and thus between band and audience. 

Seby brought the carnivorous tone down to do an emotional song about his mothers passing. The audience sat down to listen intently. The song was so beautiful, there were tears to be seen, I myself even found myself thinking lovingly after my own mother… promoting a shake back into reality when the song ended.  

The evening with Seby and his band was notable by endless smiles and laughter, music that makes you dance and musicians that are professional and happy, all punctuated regularly by Seby’s authentic and contagious chuckling. 

Roger Waters ‘Us + Them’ Tour

 Dark Side of the Moon prism shining over the audience at Hyde Park

Dark Side of the Moon prism shining over the audience at Hyde Park

06.07.18 

Hyde Park

 

The experience of seeing a member of Pink Floyd is one I wasn’t sure I’d ever have; I remember telling myself when I saw ‘Easy Stars All Stars, does, Dub Side of The Moon’ live in Boomtown 2014, that this is the closest I would ever be to seeing the album performed live. Yet on Friday the 6th July I found myself standing among a sea of sixty-five thousand bearded hippies at Hyde Park for the Great British Summer Time sold out event featuring Roger Waters on his politically charged ‘Us+Them’ tour. We had already confirmed that the  set list would packed full of Floyd classics. 

 

The event itself also featured Richard Ashcroft, who I must say, as no major fan of indie rock, I wasn’t most excited about, but lo and behold as certain ‘The Verve’ classics rippled through the audience, I found myself just as jubilant as the side-burned rockers surrounding me. As well as this, comic disco duo ‘The Cuban Brothers’ gave me reason to dance and laugh hysterically whilst they delivered a top notch performance, MC-ing, DJ-ing, with some rather impressive dancing in between the main stage acts. It was clear to see around the 7:30 mark, when the smaller stages switched acts, that there wasn’t a single person in the arena who hadn’t been really anticipating this event, and this moment. Perhaps since they brought their tickets, or perhaps since they first brought Floyd’s first album ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ in 1968.  A side note on the stalls: as you were only allowed to bring in one 500ml of unopened water into the arena, I can comment on the drinks available: the shining star was the Bacardi rum cocktail truck. They kept me hydrated, happy and they tasted like a summer party.

 

The main stage had two larger than life plastic trees that blended into natural back drop of the Hyde Park trees, creating the illusion the stage was emerging from nature. Also an pyrotechnical impressive screen that stretched the entire width of the stage making for some really cool projections. I couldn’t think of a better song to open the show, immediately connecting everyone in the experience together for moment of history as Roger Waters comes out, the audience hear ‘Breathe’, and reply in the thousands ‘breathe in the air’. 

 KKK Trump

KKK Trump

 

What proceeded was a musical orgy for any Floyd fan, with classic after classic bellowing from the stage in almost original perfection. Including the  stunning vocals of Waters backing singers on the ‘The Great Gig In the Sky’, the epic ‘Welcome To The Machine’, then a trio of Roger originals: ‘Déjà Vu’, ‘The Last Refugee’ and ‘Picture That’. To finish set one, we had a selection from ‘The Wall’ album: ‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’ and closing the set: ‘Another Brick in the Wall part 1&2’ during which, Waters really hiked up the political activism in the show by being accompanied by a choir of children from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, clad in orange prison-like jumpsuits resonating with the story from Guantanamo, and the incarceration of many young black teens in America. My mind had already began to race at the imagery and iconography being used, then Waters wore a jumpsuit also with a hood over his head pretending to be tied up with his hands above his head like a torture victim, an incredibly arresting image. There was no going back from this roaring statement.

 Inflatable anti-trump pig... Stay Human OR Die

Inflatable anti-trump pig... Stay Human OR Die

 

During the interval, Waters showed politically riveting slogans urging the audience to see the truth of our political state today. Particularly taking aim at the Conservatives and Republicans. He made no secret his aim was to tackle Trump and May. 

 Stay Human OR Die

Stay Human OR Die

 

The second act was incredible. Whilst the opening clatters of ‘Dogs’ echoed through the stunning surround sound, the famous pillars of Battersea Power Station arose from behind the stage, smoke and all, and to match, the epically large screen resembled the body of the station… complete with the iconic pig hanging from one chimney to the other as in the  famous ‘Animals’ cover. The audience went crazy. I went crazy, it was almost too cool. As well as this, in the second set, a huge inflatable pig flew over the crowd plastered with anti-Trump slogans and with the words ‘Stay Human /or Die’ as they began to play ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’. While immaculate Floyd songs satisfied each Floyd fan, flashing images of Donald Trump  wearing a Klu Klux Klan mask and Theresa May took residence on the screen with a selection of their most haunting quotes. 

 Battersea in Hyde Park

Battersea in Hyde Park

 

The message was becoming as clear as a punch in the face, and if this wasn’t enough, Waters himself andt his band members, during ‘Dogs’, turned around wearing rather scary pig masks and climaxing with Waters himself holding a sign that read ‘PIGS RULE THE WORLD!’. This he then turned to show ‘FUCK THE PIGS!’. It really was astonishing. I wondered how many people might have tried to stop Waters plans in the making of this show, and I admired his spirit, soul and bravery. I also greatly cherished the political education he must be giving some people, plus the outright audacity to which he presented the points. It was simply enthralling, gobsmacking, and damn right BRILLIANT. 

 Roger Walters Carrying a sign reading one side: PIGS RULE THE WORLD!, and the other 'FUCK THE PIGS'

Roger Walters Carrying a sign reading one side: PIGS RULE THE WORLD!, and the other 'FUCK THE PIGS'

 

"Resistance through together-ness” was the theme and I felt as though Roger Waters was speaking so loudly through the muted voice of thousands of people, whilst ensuring he resonated with their ideologies. Needless to say the execution of the songs were note-perfect, if not larger than life, due to the excellence in sound engineering with surround sound echoing around Hyde Park: the sounds of helicopters and roaring crowds bustled from one side of the park to the other creating a supper immersive experience. Set two reads like an activists ‘to do’ list in sign making: Dogs, Pigs, Money, Us + Them, Smell the Roses, Brain Damage and Eclipse. Before treating us to the finale (appropriately chosen ‘Comfortably Numb’, a sound reflection of the audience), Waters left the stage and came back with keffiyeh scarf. Here he said perhaps the most pertinent political statement of the show…   

 Baby Trump

Baby Trump

 

“I don’t know about you, but if you believe in the declaration of Human Rights 1948…void of age, nationality, race or colour, then I believe that this extends to ALL humans, and most certainly to our brothers and sisters in Palestine”.   He then took the scarf and told the audience it was made by Palestinian refugees and he wore it proudly throughout the finale. It was an almost shocking statement to hear in central London, where by the powers-that-be would seemingly prefer to create an illusion that nothing is happening to the Palestinians. 

It was nearly easy to forget the stunning show that was simultaniously unfolding: a feat of pyrotechnics as the 'Dark Side' prisom shone through the air in a fabulous light display potruding from the stage, and of course, a finale of fireworks erupting from Battersea, a spectacle indeed. 

I felt stunned, shocked and completely in love with Roger Waters performance. I could never ever have guessed that he would combine his philanthropy so intensely with his music. Not only that, he challenged an ever-growing and scary ideal that seems to spreading like wildfire, especially in Republican, far right America. All the while public figures are shying away from political subjects in order to keep the calm. However Waters preached humanity, civility and equality for around three hours to 65,000 ecstatic Floyd fans. I for one commend his character, his show and his priorities. 

 

Pink Floyd, who I had previously already thought to be among the best music there can be, got infinitely better, and a performance I had been longing for ever since I first heard ‘Wish You Were Here’ absolutely smashed my expectations musically, socially, politically and emotionally. Not only for a Roger Waters as ‘Pink Floyd’ performance, but actually as one of the best performances by ANYONE I have ever seen. 

 

HATS OFF SIR, thank-you for using your voice when so many do not. 

 

PEACE to ALL. 

 Finale

Finale

Širom

Sirom

@ Café Oto (East) 

08.05.18

Whilst discovering more about Širom before I went to see them in East Londons nicest cafe venue (personal opinion), I found that they describe themselves on facebook as Slovenian acoustic folk trance drone avant-garde experimental band. - I figured if they have as much musical inspiration as they do genre describing words, then we’d be in for a a mouth full of music. 

Café Oto is located in East London, cafe by day selling vinyls teas and cakes, and by evening, the small barely raised stage fills and the room transforms into magical musical get away. This time on entering the Oto, seats were being placed out fo the ever growing audience. Looking around, the audience seemed mainly middle aged artistic types, some with small kids tacking naps in their laps, and the odd student here and there. 

I took a seat to the right of the stage and feasted my eyes on the array of musical instruments mapped out on the floor. I see two balafons, African xylophones, I see a ribab, a one stringed lute from Morocco played with a padded bow and traditionally accompanying poets. As well as this, we can see a violin, many forms of percussion, a small kalimba lamellaphone which is a small thumb piano and a few other instruments also. 

The Slovenian trio came to the stage, and in an atmospheric way began the musical journey. For that’s what it was. The trance came over to me in waves, at times during the performance I found myself with my eyes closed in an almost mediative way as the music took ahold of my conscience. 

Notably each movement lasted around the twenty minute mark, certainly not a performance of 4-7 minute songs back to back. During each piece, the members of the group: Iztok Koren, mainly on percussive instruments and banjo, Ana Kravanja rousing on the violin, however playing many other things too and finally, Samo Kutin on the balafons, kalimbas and something that looked somewhere between a DIY-do-it-yourself Kora, and an oversizes gourd bow. Research tells me this is in fact a home-made harp.

The music starts, I notice at first that Iztok is playing the banjo with the bow…(I later noticed we actually had a 4 strings banjo, and a 5 string). At first I wasn’t sure I enjoyed the sound, but once layered and set in its context with the violin and balloon playing, and then slowly a beat, I found myself in awe and embarrassed I had initially doubted the sound. The avant-garde elements were obvious enough, the audio experimentation, the adventurous journeys they were taking us on. This bow came into use in many ways, at some point, a balafon was picked up vertically, and the thin edges of the keys were played with this bow. Again, a strange yet immersive sound. 

Lyrics take a back seat with this experience, the occasional vocal drone from Ana and Samo, we had rhythm sections, at a couple of memorable points, Ana and Samo interlocked their two balafons, both members playing both balafons, the skill was impressive to say the least, furthermore this created such a beautiful sound. Melodies were made from muted strings, sounds were pulled from everything: the slide of a finger on a guitar, beating a rusty bicycle chain cog creating a singing bowl effect, the beat from tapping a banjo face, a shake of a small bell and a whisper directed away from the microphone.

Širom performed a musical experience, with such long pieces it was easy to loose yourself in their trance. Wether it be the ongoing ukulele, or the banjo or violin, as the musicians switched between instruments mid-movement, they did so with such a gracious and smooth transitions keeping the vibe alive throughout. 

Their energy exuded thoughts of nature, running water, the kalimba and the balafons connotated rain-forests for me, I felt that Širom were welcoming me into their imiaginations, into their nature, into the landscapes of Slovenia. It sounded as though each ember had multiple sets of hands and were creating noises that I could barely keep up with. 

Širom formed in 2014 and are signed to Glitterbeat records, their 2017 album ‘I Can be a Clay Snapper’ is available on Spotify, I would personally recommend ‘Boats, Biding, Beware!’. For me the album falls directly into that that can be played on nearly all occasions, be it a dinner party, an intense personal listening session, cycle around the city or relaxing with friends. I

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of seeing Širom at Cafe Oto, I would call it an experience. Although musical, it certainly didn’t feel quite like a normal gig, a gig installation perhaps? There we find our avant-garde. 

Imarhan

imarhan
Imarhan

22.03.17

Rough Trade (East)

Thursday night saw a special event for Tuareg music lovers, Imarhan, having been hailed the torch bearers for a new generation of Tuareg musicians, bring their mix of traditional Tuareg music, mixed with a little funk and a little disco to East Londons Rough Trade record store. 

A warm up show to their sold out headlining gig at the Moth Club Friday, Rough Trade played host to the desert blues band who had travelled all the way from Tamanrasset,, the Southern Algerian part of the Sahara desert that covers much of North Africa.

Tuareg music is a phenomena hailing from the Sahara Desert, specifically Northern Mali. It is blues music played on electric guitar (noticeably often Gibsons), with cyclical riffs and traditional percussion such as hand clapping and a calabash drum and djembes. The lyrics are sung in Tamasheq, the language of the Tuaregs and often depict the struggle of the nomadic Tuaregs, and their fight for autonomy, as well as lyrically standing in solidarity with their social and geographical struggles. The first band to break out of Northern Africa and into the global scene was genre pioneers Tinariwen, who have been since touring the world popularising the Tuareg music in world music scenes globally. Now Tuareg musicians are passionately saught out for festivals the world over. 

In 2016 Imarhan released their debut self-titled album on ‘City Slang’ label. Their debut flagged the band as Tuareg band to watch, taking the traditional musicality of Tuareg genre, and adding contemporary flourishes. Such tunes as Tahabort stood out as having particularly groovy riffs on top of all the ingredients to make the music undeniably Tuareg. From this album they toured, building a reputtaiton as an energetic and must book band. 

Now in 2018 they are releasing their second album ‘Temet’. This album is focusing lyrically on the coming together of traditional Tuareg with the contemporary, globalised present. The opening song on the album ‘Azzaman’ has a video filmed in Algeria’s capitol Algiers, and depicts this ideology. 

Kept slightly under the radar, this Rough Trade concert was added a little last minute and was available for free. On offer however was the opportunity for a meet and greet with the band and a signing session of their new album. Rough Trade therefore were selling the albums on CD and vinyl. 

At 7:30 the band came onto the tiny, quiet stage in Rough Trade, a record store that has pushed back all the CD stands to the back of the room to make space for the intimate session. Perhaps less than a hundred people in the room, the band begin. 

Their electric guitars immediately echo, playing the signature riffs over and over, with the percussion riding over the top and the fast passed lyrics, almost sounding like a rap over the top. Everyone joins in for the chorus sections, harmonising, and adding impact. They opened the show with ‘Azzaman’ from the new album, and it worked perfectly to warm up the audience. 

I sensed the demographic at the concert, were more die hard fans, than wonders, as during the songs, ripples of on beat clapping would start from an individual obviously clapping musically in time with the tunes that must be imbedded in their minds. Then in another song, someone else would succumb to the clapping, and so on and so forth. 

After one or two songs, the band seemed to warmed up, and the small area became heavily compact as the audience became hooked on the music. The percussionists moved around with each song, from djembe, to bongos, to calabash and drum kits. Meanwhile each member sung at points with front singer ‘Sadam’ leading the way. 

The music was beautifully grooving. Playing songs from both albums such as ‘Imuhagh’, ‘Imarhan’ and ending on the epic ‘Tumast’. In such as small venue, to see such a powerful band projecting their energy so strongly, and playing these guitar riffs that just go on and on. It was an amazing experience, and one I am sure won’t be repeated easily. Given their next show is SOLD OUT at the Moth Club, I doubt we’ll be seeing Imarhan in such a small and intimate venue again. 

After a nine songs, their short and sweet set came to an end. The audience had woo-ed, clapped and danced throughout, clearly making the band at ease, as they smiled an urged the remaining audience members to clap the rhythm with the rest of the some-what over excited Tuareg fans, already clapping the percussion. 

If you are intersted in Tuareg music, these guys are an imperative name to know. As they are bending the typical format of a Tuareg band, and adding modern twists, groovy licks and funky bass parts. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the concert, and appreciate the opportunity to hear the music in such a small place. Also immediately after playing the band headed to the front of the shop for a cigarette in true rock’n’roll style, then sat down to take their time signing and talking to everyone that wanted to pass. 

All in all, fantastic band with an priceless new album. Well worth it. 

Members: Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane (Sadan), Tahar Khaldi, Haiballah Akhamouk, Abdelkader Ourzig, Hicham Bouhasse.

(All photos of Imarhan members LIVE @ Rough Trade, 23/03/18, by Sophie Darling)

Imarhan
Imahran
Imarhan
Imarhan

The Legend of William Onyeabor by Bukky Leo and the Black Egypt

19.03.18 

Jazz Cafe (Camden) 

 Bukky Leo and the Black Egypt live at the Jazz Cafe 19.03.18 .Photo by Sophie Darling. 

Bukky Leo and the Black Egypt live at the Jazz Cafe 19.03.18 .Photo by Sophie Darling. 

 Fred Schmid on baritone sax, entering the stage of Buky Leo and Black Egypt live at the Jazz Cafe 19.03.18. Photo by Sophie Darling 

Fred Schmid on baritone sax, entering the stage of Buky Leo and Black Egypt live at the Jazz Cafe 19.03.18. Photo by Sophie Darling 

16113340_1191188670936521_2118651781065976314_o_1484736664_crop_550x580.jpg

Bukky Leo, a renowned saxophonist best known for having played for years in Nigeria, his home country with Afrobeat innovator Fela Kuti after being originally spotted by afrobeats rhythm master Tony Allen. 

In 1982 Bukky came to London where he proceeded to make waves in the beginning of the acid jazz scene. In this era, Bukkys debut album hit no.1 in the rhythm and blue, dance and jazz charts. These days Bukky still tours with the likes of Tony Allen and funk and soul maestro Roy Ayers. As well as this, Bukky now tours around the top jazz venues with the Black Egypt band, an all star afrocentric band playing dedications to some of the greatest afro funk, soul and afrobeat, with such shows previously as Bukky Leo and the Black Egypt present Fela Kuti. 

Now they have come together in this stunning line-up of maestro musicians, with multitudes of recordings behind their names. Starting with the legend himself: Bukky Leo on Lead Vocals/Tenor Saxophone, Yeukai Makoni and Maxyne Ryne on backing vocal, Maurice Brown on Guitars, Kishon Khan on Keyboards and the retro Onyeabor-esc Moog Fender Rhodes, Dennis Davies on Bass, Richard Olatunde Bake on Percussions Congas and backing vocals, and  Saleem Raman on drums. The horn section: Toby Nowell on trumpet, Fred Schmid on baritone saxophone and finally Harry Brown on trumbone.

This time around the talented band are playing a tribute to the late Willam Onyeabor. (1947-2017), specifically they are naming the night: ‘The Legend of William Onyeabor’, obviously correlating to his innovative Nigerian synth based grooves, however I imagine they are referring somewhat also too the fact that the real William Onyeabor is an allusive mysterious man with legendary stories similar to that of Sixto Rodriguez, surrounding the music and fame of Onyeabor.

Up until super recently (perhaps even the changing marker may’ve been his death) if you wanted to buy one of Onyeabors famed nine self released albums between 1977 and 1985 on his personal label ‘Wilfilms’… You would struggle. Big time. The only available package of Onyeabors tunes is a 2013 compilation album released on Luaka Bop records called "Who is William Onyeabor", of which kick started an enigmatic comeback, all whilst existing in an unattainable oblivion. So much so is William Onyeabors life a mystery to all, that infact during the one gig ever organised for the guy… The audience was treated to a life size cut out of Onyeabor, only for the real human to never show! Stuff of legends. 

The musicality part of William Onyeabors legendary status comes from his innovative use of the synthizers. Born in Enugu in Nigeria, locally Onyeabor is supposedly a well known businessman and devote self proclaimed born again Christian. On top of this, he is known by the town as repectfully  “The Chief”. However in all of this, there is nothing to be said for the nine albums he produced, and near to no information on the man himself, other than that he was a man to be feared, with no-one wanting to cross the apparently, bad tempered Onyeabor. Famously Eric Welles-Nyström of Luaka Bop records was quoted to have said that in attempting to meet with Onyeabor to sign the pre-agreed contract allowing Luaka to release a complication of his songs was “one of the toughest ordeals I had ever endured in my life” and thus changed the pre-named “This is William Onyeabor” compilation to the more accurately titled “Who is William Onyeabor?”.

Onyeabors bodacious use of synthesisers was at the time unprecedented in Nigeria, and I’d take a guess in saying over also much of West Africa. Innovating an afro-techno, funk and disco genre with sometimes political lyrics, and sometimes lyrics straight from Onyeabors crazed and mysterious imagination. These synth infested tunes are catchy as hell, and amazingly good fun.

The evening as always at the jazz cafe was lit beautifully, with the seemingly small stage packed with musicians. They played the great works of William Onyeabor with immense skill. Each musician took their turning solo-ing, from beautiful jazzy solos on the sax, to the retro sounding synths on the keys by Kishon Kahn. The horn sections to the backing singers, everything fitted perfectly to William Onyeabors aesthetics. Bukky Leo reminded us of his ferociousness on the saxophone playing intense solos that had the audience gasping for the next notes. The disco drops played perfectly as half the audience danced 80’s disco style, really letting go and moving to the Nigerian beats. The other half of the demographic nodded in appreciation at the musicality of each instruments player.

 Bukky Leo Live at the Jazz Cafe 19.03.18 Photo by Sophie Darling 

Bukky Leo Live at the Jazz Cafe 19.03.18 Photo by Sophie Darling 

The concert was split into two half with a 15 minute interval around 9:40. Upon returning for the second act, the band launched into arguably Onyeabors most popular song ‘Atomic Bomb’, from here on out the dancing flowed and the music grooved.

I particularly loved watching Bukky Leo conduct as band leader on stage, adding to the professionality of the musicians, and the supposed improvisation they were playing live, Bukky could be seen directing each section to start and stop whilst he conducted solos and jammed. 

Ending at a comfortable 11, the evening was a pleasure, it was fun and Bukky Leo and the Black Egypt truly played to perfection the works of William Onyeabor, a mysterious, yet seriously funky synth lover. 

Namlo

 Namlo @ Balabam  16.03.18  Photo by Sophie Darling

Namlo @ Balabam

16.03.18
Photo by Sophie Darling

 Namlo @ Balabam  16.03.18  Photo by Sophie Darling 

Namlo @ Balabam

16.03.18
Photo by Sophie Darling 

16.03.18

Balabam (Tottenham)

I shall keep this review short and sweet as in the past I have already reviewed Namlo. 

Firstly, since my first meeting with the band Namlo over a year ago, they have remained, regardless of the acts I am able to see throughout the year, they remain one of my all time best bands to see in London. 

As one of the only Nepalese bands playing live in London, they are pivotal in keeping the diaspora of Nepalese traditional musics alive. They bring this beautiful music, compromised of a clarinet, playing the part that traditionally Nepali flutes would play,  a selection of percussions including a calabash drum and variety of bells, along with melodic guitar playing, stunning harmonies and lyrics nostalgic of Nepal. 

Since last I saw the band, they have a new percussionist: Gizel a well known Turkish multi-percussionist, and a few new songs nestled in between the classics from their debut album of which was released in 2017 and self titled ‘Namlo’.  Namlo is the name of the strap that holds the head loads Nepalese people carry as they walk through the mountains, the name Namlo represents the traditions and the strength of the Nepali people and their music. 

Balabam is a perfect setting for a Namlo gig. The energy of this reasonably new venue to London is positively beautiful. With Mediterranean style interior, the venue exudes warmth and comfort, along with attracting a friendly and open demographic. The music they showcase is global and inclusive. Namlo set up on the stage with the soft multi coloured walls of reds and yellows, as an inviting backdrop works perfectly together to set the vibe of the evening. 

 DJ Ritu and AWIL Team, Sofia and Sophie Darling with Namlo on stage @ Balabam  16.03.18    

DJ Ritu and AWIL Team, Sofia and Sophie Darling with Namlo on stage @ Balabam

16.03.18 

 

As well as this, DJ Ritu, of Londons best ‘world music’ radio programme ‘A World In London’, introduced the band with fantastic respectable descriptions of the musicians and the musical traditions of Nepal. In return, the band were noticeably very grateful to DJ Ritu for her introductions, thanking her profusely a couple of times from the stage during the gig. The repoir and exchanges of respect between the acts was obvious and heart warming. 

The band proceed to play a few of my favourites from their album: Kauda, Yesto Mod, Tamang Selo, and Mountain Groove. As well as this they treated us to some new songs, begging the question of when we can expect a second album! Less than a year since the release of their debut, I personally am already ready for new songs. I enjoyed the new tracks and thoroughly look forward to being able to hear them again.

A few of their songs had the audience dancing, and singing a long with various ‘heys’ and ‘hos’, others more morose melodic songs had members of the audience hugging one another and swaying arm in arm, evening at times people took a seat on the floor to listen to the songs. The slower softer song resonated around the room full of people hanging on their every note such as Rodhi Ghara, a personal favourite of mine, actually truth be told had me teary eyed. 

Namlo have a fantastic ability, I believe, to reach into listeners hearts, unlike hardly any other bands I see…audiences watching Namlo always seem to be emotionally reacting to their music. Pida for example, a sad song dedicated to the people of whom are lost in the mountains in Nepal is played with simply the double bass and a Nepali Tungna lute of which Ganga plays whilst singing. This song in particular had the room alert and listening, many hands on hearts and invested in the lyrics.

It was also nice to notice how the band had evolved, such as the female singer Shreya Rai having grown immensely in confidence, previously being nervous to speak, both Ganga and Shreya are now confident and articulate speakers between songs, often making the audience laugh. 

Overall the evening was beautiful. The music of Namlo can be heard by nearly any demographic, and each person is likely to thoroughly enjoy the music. I have been introducing friends every time I have seen them, and each time, every friend wants to return with more friends. 

Their music is warming, uplifting and also emotional. Balabam is the perfect setting for such an happy and friendly evening. I highly recommend you check out Namlo’s music, get to see them live, and also check out the events at Balabam. 

Tony Allen

 Tony Allen  @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

09.02.18

Village Underground (East) 

 Tony Allen and Band   @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Matt Prev   

Tony Allen and Band 

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Matt Prev

 

Getting off the bus in East London proved to be a freezing cold endeavour. I felt grateful my evening was consisting of standing inside a potentially very hot protected building. I made my way to the Village Underground. 

What is Afrobeat? 

It’s hard to think of genres of music originated from Africa that are well known to the average Westerner much outside of the ‘world music’ boundaries. One stands rather clear however, having been popularised and developed in the late 1970’s, ‘afrobeat’ managed to break through borders and become a well known genre globally outside of it’s insemination in Africa. 

Fela Kuti pioneered afrobeat, having studied music in England and in Africa, he wanted to distinguish the music making from Nigeria where he was from, the beautiful funky soul full music they were making, and point out it’s differences to what was happening in the West at the time, such as the soul music of James Brown.

Mixing jazz and funk with elements of Western African musical styles such as jùjú and highlife, afrobeat really focuses on complex jazz rhythms, over African percussions and famously stunningly long musical interludes showcasing stunning improvisational solo’s from an array of instruments. Noticeable, one would think somewhat immediately off the saxophone as that was Fela Kuti’s primary instrument, as well as being a multi-instrumentalist. 

Tony Allen

Reasons why it is ok to say that Tony Allen is a living legend, a pioneer of music, and a fundamental character in the musical make-up of North West Africa: Tony Allen played on the first 35 studio albums that Fela Kuti and the subsequent ‘Africa 70’ albums produced, therefore Tony Allen played a fundamental and imperative role in shaping the genre of afrobeat. Known globally as if not THE best (Damon Albarn and Brian Eno have said many times he is) drummer on Earth, Tony Allen is said to be able to play different time signatures on each limb. Tony Allen played such complex cross-rythms on Fela Kuti’s recordings that when it came to gigging, no other drummer could replace Tony. They could simple only replicate the music if Tony Allen himself was there. 

Finally it isn’t that Tony Allen played drums FOR Fela Kuti who in turn innovated the genre of afrobeat. The innovation also imperatively lies with Tony Allens rhythms: the propulsive polyrhythms new beats, inspired by the fusion of African musicality, such as the Yoruba religious musical conventions that have been borrowed and adapted, morphed even by Tony. Allen then shaped these new musicalities, moulding a new groove to match what Fela Kuti was creating with his band the Africa 70’, AKA the foundations of a new genre: afrobeat. Therefore Tony Allen surely is one of the only percussionists alive to lay claim to the innovation of an entire rhythm, beat and way of playing the drums that lent itself to the invention of afrobeat as a global, as well as locally, loved genre. 

Furthermore, not only has Tony Allen played on over 35 studio albums with Fela Kuti, he has created 17 personal solo studio albums, a further seven collaborative albums, and featured on endless albums as guest drummer. All together, Tony Allen has featured in one way or another on over seventy five studio albums, now seventy eight years old, Tony has an album for nearly every year of his life. His later material revisiting his earlier jazz routes. ‘The Source’ being his latest release (2017) is  a debut full-length album for Blue Note Records. Claiming that freedom is in full flow, Tony Allen thinks that this new album is his best work as a drummer, free of all limitations, it truly explores the freedom of what it means to be Tony Allen behind a drum kit. 

The Village Underground

The venue as always is a pleasure to go to, set in an old underground station, the bar tucks neatly under an archway, with the cloak room and toilets there immediately as you enter. Then to your left is the large hall with double high arched ceilings, the walls red brick, and the stage at the far end of the arch. The stage was set with a cross of large lights that looked like old airplane fans. In the middle of the stage there stood loud and proud the drum kit of Tony Allen, all spot lights central around this. 

I got myself a drink from the somewhat reasonably priced bar, and waited the evening ahead. The DJ was playing a mix of African high life and disco, all very funky movable songs. The audience filled the floor with casual dancing. 

Around 10pm, the lights went down and the show started. Joining Tony Allen on the stage was a sax player, trumpet, piano (set up with a rowland keys and a full grande piano, an electric guitarists and a stand up bass. Lastly Tony Allen himself comes out looking fresh faced, and energetically ready. He took up spot on the drums and we were away. 

 Tony Allen and Band   @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen and Band 

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

The rest of the evening consisted of a jazz enthralled journey. Each piece jamming out for long periods of time, each embezzled with jazz solos on the sax and solos on the trumpet, and sometimes solo’s from both in sync. Furthermore, the pianist was a stunner to watch, playing the grande piano with his left hand, keeping the cyclical melodic lines going, whilst simultaneously his right hand solo’s on the keyboard. The stand up bass had solos that were beautiful, funky and encapsulating, as well as the guitarist. Each musician played perfectly, with crips, clear notes, stabbing stops and harmonious harmonies. The music was really of the highest quality. 

The framing for Tony Allens set was perfect, the lighting of the stage set the scene that something special was taking place, with Tony Allen rightfully placed as the central piece in the middle fo the stage, most spot lights highlighting his drumming throughout. Watching Tony Allen drum so freely, so easily and with such complexity was a real treat to any jazz fan. 

The audience swayed along to the jazz the whole evening long. Unable to control themselves when a suggested end fo the show came, the audience demands more more more tunes, and Tony Allen and band accept the offer. Tony Allen, in his 70’s is know for his ferocious playing of the drums, a tiring discipline, only Tony Allen who played with Fela, famous for playing all night long, or for at least 6 hours at a time, can play for hours and hours impeccably. He says he finds it hard to Finnish after only two hours. 

However in the two hours of Tony Allen played drums for myself and a room full of adoring fans in the Village Underground Allen managed to display, and prove why his legacy stands so highly regarded in the world of music. 

For many I think the evening seemed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I certainly felt honoured to have witnessed Tony Allen drumming, the greatest drummer alive, some might say. 

 

 Tony Allen  @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

TootArd

 Photo by Sophie Darling   TootArd @ Rich Mix 01.02.17

Photo by Sophie Darling 

TootArd @ Rich Mix 01.02.17

01.02.18 

Rich Mix (Brick Lane) 

It is always a pleasure to go to the warm, welcoming Rich Mix centre for a concert, and tonight was no different. 

The lights were set in a groovy array of greens and reds and blues, I was aware the band were joining the stage at 9pm prompt following a set from the DJ spinning world vinyls. 

Although a little sparse at first, the audience soon filled out and when nine o’clock came around the room was packed, immensely heating up. 

The five piece came out opening their set with a killer track from their debut album ‘Nuri Andaburi’, of which came out in 2011; Jeena. The catchy chorus has such a smooth flow, the bass is groovy, and it introduces the middle eastern themes in a light way. Jeena is also one of the  bands reggae tracks, of which TootArds have become some what renowned as the ‘reggae band of Syria’. The band skanked in unison as the audience indulged.

drummertootard

From the Golan Heights, this five piece: two electric guitars, bass, saxophone and drums with main vocals, and 3 harmonies, travelled to England. It has taken years to have the band  come to England to play for us due to various visa issues, and receiving different passports when during their personal displacement experiences. 

The audience seemed ecstatic , and when they said “does anyone here speak Arabic’, the room exploded, it seemed clear that TootArd have gained quite a respectable following in England. I found myself wishing I could understand Arabic as the songs had such a infectious groove, I found myself subliminally, and certainly incorrectly,  singing along. 

There was an insane groove funking from the bass at all times, almost western funk disco-esc bass lines. If one were to listen soul to the bass lines, for sure that person would be pulling a bass face before they knew it. 

What’s I particularly found interesting however, is how they play over the bass. So listening to the albums, you’d assume middle eastern instruments, a shawm or a saz perhaps, but what is so unique about TootArds, is that they create the middle eastern aesthetic, not with the usual instruments that produce the sound, but however by pairing an electric guitar with a saxophone that simultaneously play the middle eastern riffs. Together the two separate, totally non-middle eastern sounding instruments amazingly create a rusting sound that could fool anyone into thinking it was a Turkish saz, or a Shawn from the silk road. The electric guitar sounds as though it may be using some kind of tremolo effect and in perfect sync, they play the typically middle eastern-esc riffs that matching the sounds of the saxophone and guitar together make perfect maqqam quarter notes intonation. 

I had never seen this sound so brilliantly replicated and found it interesting, innovative and inspiring. 

I really came away from the TootArd evening a really huge fan. I enjoyed every song they played, and found their energy to be uplifting, happy and peaceful. There were moments of audience participation, singing along and dancing all night. The evening was a pleasure, and the band impeccable. 

 TootArd at Rich Mix 01.02.18

TootArd at Rich Mix 01.02.18

Baba Zula

29.01.17 

Nells Jazz & Blues (South Kensington) 

I returned to Nells Jazz & Blues for the second time in a weekend. The first to see North West African traditional music, and this time, to see eclectic Turkish folk band Baba Zula. 

 Periklie Tsoukalas of Baba Zula   Nells Jazz a Blues   29.01.18   Photo Sophie Darling 

Periklie Tsoukalas of Baba Zula 

Nells Jazz a Blues

29.01.18 

Photo Sophie Darling 

Baba Zula formed as a band in Istanbul in 1996. They have since become the polar figures, pioneers and flag masters for Turkish psychedelic rock’n’roll. The eclectic mix of sounds and influences emanating from their high energy performances beams traditional oriental instruments:  sounds such Özgür Çakırlar beating the darbuka drums providing thriving rhythms throughout. The saz, mastered by Murat Ertel, reminds us of the Arab influences, and screams maqqam, however untraditionally electrified. The result; dirty, at times distorted rock’n’roll saz solos over chorus-esc male singing, often in small phrases, or one word exclamations. Traditional percussion provides the much needed foot stopping dance tones, whilst contemporary electronic instruments such as sample pads, percussion machines, theremins, oscillators, effects pedals and an array of experimentation adds the modern dance, dub elements. All in all, the performances Baba Zula produce comes served as a mixed disciplinary experience, often travelling through long psychedelic instrumentals, thrashing into Hendrix inspired lute solos channeled through a wah wah pedal. The energy bursts out of every segment of the songs, often building up to wonderfully long dancing, jumping conclusions. 

Periklie Tsoukalas is representing a similar look to the last time I saw the boys playing; steampunk circle glasses matched with multicoloured patched waistcoat and matching shoes, with orange trousers and a larger than life afro that bobbed to every beat. Periklies position within the band is playing the electric oud and vocals. The effects pedal at his feet becomes the most important part of the the musical make-up of Baba Zula. One minute the oud will be emanating renaissance-esc melodic phrases, then with a tap of the foot, the bass strings are creating heavy dubbed bass lines that dominate the energy of the song. With another tap, the oud becomes Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Strat’ with a 70’s wah wah bending the notes, shaping the vibe into a groovy funk dance. 

With Baba Zula you journey through genres, through sounds and through themes. 

Speaking of themes, the ideologies of the band members are clear throughout. With every moment of conversation between the band and the audience, they pursued the opportunity to promote a global peaceful vision. One of no borders, no discrimination and of a ‘one people’. Speaking to the audience they ask…

“Do you feel you are from a race? from a nation? Do you think you could be wrong? We can all be wrong? We are all mixed you see… 

You don’t know your great great great grandfather do you? Nooo. So you could be wrong! You do not know!

We are all mixed, we are all living, in this world, in this now. 

We can have and learn enjoyment”

…From here they jumped into the next grooving song, punching the peaceful energy around the room. Furthermore after every song, and in every moment of pause, the members of the band adorned the universal peace signs with their hands to the audience. 

Periklie frequently triggered a pop culture reference in my head… I felt as though I were being taken back to school…. ‘The School of Rock’ to be precise, and Jack Black was telling me to “raise my goblet of rock” before “melting” my face off in this light hearted, totally rock’n’roll character, as he points around the audience before shredding on the oud. 

Techno percussionist Levent Akman is known for vibing on the spoons, the maracas, all manner of mini percussions, symbols, pads, effects, whilst experimenting with electronic devices, that at times can become so overpowering the distortion can be felt from within. 

A slight disappointment came in that female vocalist Melike Şahin didn’t join the band for this performance, there was also no explanation as to why. 

The band came on stage around 8, and started the set jumping immediately in the deep end, opening with perhaps one of their biggest hits ‘Abdülcanbaz’, played for over 10 minutes, the eventual crescendo of the song opens the set and immediately creates the high energy reaction from the already dancing audience. Screaming in support could be heard the entire evening. 

The dancing did not stop for one moment throughout the evening as Baba Zula played hit after hit demanding audience participation, which they received with an raucous passion. At one moment, the entire venue could be heard chanting “PIRASA” meaning ‘leek’ in Turkish, or as they pointed out, a word that will be accepted all across the Balkans and in Greece also. 

Together the audience sung, clapped and danced the night away with Baba. 

At a number of points, the audience was very literally dancing WITH Baba Zula as they spent a good couple of songs within the audience, either dancing with us, singing with us, asking us all to join them on them crouching low on the floor quietly, whilst Periklie sings acoustic traditional Arabic melismatic vocals that echoed around the small venue, all the while building up the energy by punctuating his vocals with the single strum of an extremely high powered, slightly distorted oud. 

Murat Ertel also acted rock’n roll in many ways, from playing his electric sax solos  behind his head in  typical ‘Vaughan’ style, to traveling across the audience via chair tops, across the room to the bar, where he climbed, saz in hand, to solo on the bar top all while commuting from stage to bar whilst playing epic saz licks.

The evening at Nells was quite juxtaposed to the Saturday evening I had spent in the venue. The first evening I spent was very serious, almost silent and specialist. However this evening was quite the opposite, with upbeat dancing from moment one, the demographic seemed far more ‘excited’ than Saturdays crowd, with a high level of chatting in between songs, it was perhaps a little too loud in laughter for my liking. However, the same set up of the stage at Saturday: minimal lights and back drop ensuring upmost attention to the music and the artist. The 200 capacity at Nells really makes for an intimate show, one where you really feel as though you have seen, even met the artists. 

I thouroughly enjoyed my evening with Baba Zula, and would recommend their live performance to anyone into dancing, Balkans, Turkish, Psychedelia, Rock’n’roll, shredding solos and all manner of hooligan-ary and fun, and of corse, impeccable musicianship. 

 

 Me and Murat Ertel  Baba Zula @ Nells Jazz & Blues   29.01.18

Me and Murat Ertel

Baba Zula @ Nells Jazz & Blues 

29.01.18

 

 

 

 

Vieux Farka Touré

 Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues   15.01.18  Photo: Sophie Darling 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues

15.01.18

Photo: Sophie Darling 

15.01.18 

Nells jazz & Blues (South Kensington)  

When I was faced with the opportunity to go to Vieux Farka Touré’s show in the South of London I was ecstatic. For me, the musical legacy of Vieux’s pioneering father; Ali Farka Touré would have been enough in itself, however the beautiful albums that have preceded Vieux Farka Tourés musical career make it clear that Vieux is expressing an innovative and personal style, differing from his fathers, but still remaining within the legacy.

A quick note on the legacy of Ali Farka Touré (1939-2006). Touré is one of Africa’s most internationally renowned artists. Ali Farka Touré took the electric guitar, so far belonging to the American blues, and innovated an eclectic genre combining West African musical traditions with the blues. All the while arguing that the blues is historically derived from African musical traditions anyway. In this sense, by playing the African blues and being one of the first Malian musicians to take his music out of Mali and take it global, out of Africa,  Ali Farka Touré managed to attain some African ownership over blues music, that had previously been incorrectly and wholly associated globally within a purely American context. This thus changed the face and historical make-up of North West African music from an outsiders perspective, and from an insiders, created a new platform of music making. 

Ali Farka Touré was born into a family of warriors, not musicians. In Mali and much of North/West African traditions, musicians are born into their musical families, and thus learn hereditarily, these families and musicians are called ‘griots’ or ‘jeli’ and they become the leading authoritative on all things to do with their instruments, be it a Kora or a Balafon, or percussion such as a calabash. Neither Ali nor Vieux were born into this griot family, and so it was quite strange at first to have an non-jeli learn the musical ways. However, after some convincing Ali Farka Touré allowed Vieux to learn to be a musician after family friend Toumani Diabaté convinced Ali. Diabaté being a famous Malian griot family learned in the Kora. 

Since Vieux began a debut album, of which his father Ali features as well as Toumani Diabaté. Vieux’s father sadly died in 2006 before the completion of the album, however was noted to have been proud, and listened to the self titled album ‘Vieux Farka Touré’ whilst waiting peacefully to pass. Vieux also decided to continue his fathers charitable legacy by donating 10% of all proceeds from his debut to the Modiba’s “Fight Malaria” campaign in Niafunké. 

Vieux has since has a lustrous career touring and playing all manor of festivals and releasing over 5 studio albums, and plenty of live renditions as well as opening the FIFA World Cup in South African in 2010 as well as many other honourable appearances and collaborations.

It is on this Saturday night in lovely South London however, that in an intimate 200 capacity venue, Vieux Farka Touré has travelled from Mali to play his first ever solo show. Having never played without fellow musicians, Vieux reflected on stage:

“I remember when I was in school, very young, and my father comes to get me out of school and says ‘you are coming with me, do you want to come with me to play around the world” to which I replied… of course” Vieux spoke with a clear conviction, drawing the entire audience into his stories and pauses at comically pleasing moments, creating a reaction of laughs. He smiles cheekily and continues, enjoying the rapport. 

“When we got to the stage, we look out at 500 people, and he says ‘Ok, you go on stage now. Play three songs and you open for me’”

Vieux jokes about how nervous he was, and how his three songs must have lasted 4 minutes in total.. 

“My point is, is that that was my first time I played in front of people, and here I am about to play for the first time by self, here in London, or ever. Thank you for being a part of this”. 

From this introduction, the evening was set to be something special. Another way in which the energy of the evening was mapped out by our host, is in his unusual request the audience sit on the floor. 

Nells Jazz & Blues is a intimate venue, with a small but special 200 capacity, a slight raised level from the entrance and with the bar and some seating tables on the outskirts and with a small standing pit hugging around the stage. Vieux’s request we sit on the floor came as the audience, whilst waiting, were perched on the floor. Upon standing for Vieux’s appearance on stage, he quickly suggested we all sat again so that the entire audience would have a chance at a descent view and in order for “everyone to feel like we are at home together”. This was met with rounds of applause and support, and thus, the entire audience found a seat on the floor, ensuring a sacred view for all. 

The stage at Nells is set for serious music. With home made signs everywhere saying “shhhhhhh when the music is playing” and with no fancy back drops, no crazy light show, very little, if not anything to distract from the artist and their music. This set up must be regular for the venue as it is held in very high respect, thus is known for attracting a serious music lovers demographic. Not a venue to go and listen to background music, nor a venue to go and chat throughout. This in mind, as Vieux started to play, the audience obeyed and sat in near silence whilst the distinct saharan blues guitar sounds resonated throughout the small intimate room.  

Vieux and his guitar. 

From 8:30pm- 10:30pm we were treated to beautiful original compositions, songs for his wife, songs of travelling, but also dedications and odes to his father Ali Farka Touré. Vieux played the his electric acoustic guitar in the ways that are distinctive to the legacy of him and his father. The sounds of playing kora pieces on a 6 string guitar, such as playing the bass consistently throughout with the thumb on the bass strings, and thus adding the cyclical melodic variants on the higher three strings. Playing in slight variations of the pentatonic scale lends the blues to the tonality. 

He told us that all of his family where here at the gig to hear him play his first solo gig, perhaps they could be noticed as one of those unable to stop dancing and smiling for one single beat throughout the show. 

What struck me was the crips sound of Vieux’s guitar. With such clear character, almost metallic, perhaps likening to the West African tradition of adding a ‘buzz’ aesthetic to their instruments, the effect definitely lends favour to the long instrumental pulsating guitar lines. All while singing in his deep, almost husky voice with lyrics in his native tongue.

Whilst Vieux’s easy flowing chat and laughters made for an easy and pleasant ride between songs, he also light heartedly brought up the issue of visas, and how increasingly difficult it is for Malian (and world wide) musicians to attain these days, thus threatening performances.

“In the old days, my father would say… Here you come with me, and he ring would up his friends say “me and my son need passports” and within ten minutes they come over with a passport and visas for me and my father *laughter*…. But now…It is so hard, this is a BIG ISSUE”. 

Vieux also shared some personal stories about how he started to become a musician. Telling of how originally his father didn’t like the idea due to the struggles he had faced, however later agreed and enrolled him in music school. It was here that originally Vieux started to learn the calabash before moving onto kora, then guitar. He told us how his grandfather had always encouraged him musically and had once brought him “a very big hat… and a very big calabash”. At this moment I look at the navy blue porkpie hat sat cool-y on the neck of his Fender electric guitar and I wonder if this hat was similar to the one his grandfather gave him. 

Vieux played and smiled and laughed with the audience for over two hours. Nothing but a man, his voice and the unbelievable guitar playing of the ‘Farka Tourés. As the last song started Vieux decided that everyone could stand up for the final tune in order to dance together, happily the audience obliged. 

I thoroughly loved the concert, for me it felt like a vey special evening. An opportunity to see live an original performance that might never be replicated, and musically and historically, such an important and imperative figure in the changing face of African music. Such innovative and noticeable guitar playing that his father pioneered, to see Vieux Farka Touré play his repertoire so soulfully was an honour. Furthermore the venue: Nells Jazz & Blues is a wonderful venue to host such superior and important music. 

 Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues   15.01.18   Photo: Sophie Darling 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues 

15.01.18 

Photo: Sophie Darling 

Baloji with Support from Debruit

16.11.17

Islington Assembly Hall (Angel) 

As soon I fouddn out that Soundcrash were once again, bringing fresh exciting, relevant talent from across the seas to London for an evening of global beats and Congolese style partying. 

The support act, Debruit was spinning some seriously tropical tunes as I arrived. Although the venue was waiting for the audience to thicken a little, the energy was high, and everyone was inescapably dancing in small groups, laughing; it the feel you get leading up to the main event at a festival. Debruit played some incredibly awesome tracks, but more importantly, I noticed how complex his mixing techniques were. Not a case of simply matching BPM’s, Debruit was spinning in sound effects, dub drops whilst mixing the sounds of each tracks all the way through, creating a really immersive, unique performance. The evening was shaping up to be brilliant, I noticed how there was a lot of laughing and smiling everywhere. Unlike a lot of the concerts from African musicians, the concerts demographic was actually mostly young people, early 20’s. I assumed this was due to the performer being a hip-hop artist. 

Baloji’s welcoming into the musical spotlight, actually start many years ago in an outfit called Starflam, in which his MC name was MC Balo, of which you may have heard the track ‘La Sonora’, if you haven’t then let’s skip froward to 2016 with the release of ‘Spoiler’. Spoiler was picked up by BBC, and consequently opened much broader market up for Baloji. Since his 2006 solo comeback, Baloji has been touring the world, and on this occasion had brought his band to the Islington Assembly Hall. 

Around 10pm, Debruit cleared his decks and made way for the man himself. 

First the band took to the stage, reminding me of an old cuban session band, each player, grey haired and virtuoso looking, they sat in matching blue suits. With an burst if energy, Baloji bloomed onto the stage wearing an amazing suit, a lighter shade of blue to his band members. From here Baloji stunned the audience with his mix of Congolese and Belgium hip-hop, his poetry, and the sheer dance-factor to his tunes that ensured a non stop, feet moving extravaganza. Not one person remained still, and within the audience small areas started to form where people were taking their dancing to the next level. All of this felt incredibly inclusive. Rapping in French means that the majority of the audience were guessing  the aesthetics of the songs. 

What I heard whispering around the audience multiple times, were so many comments on Balojis presentation. He looked young, hip, inspired and absolutely dashing in his suit. He wore a black bowl hat too, and danced with extreme precision. Baloji provided an immense energy to every song for this reason the whole evening flew by with a warm excitement. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in the Netherlands this week, catch Baloji there at ‘Explore the North’ on the 25th of November.  Also be sure to check out his latest single released this year ‘L’Hiver Indien’, it’s a great example of the energy and soul that comes with Baloji. I’d also recommend giving the last album from his past band Starflam if you are into your hip-hop. ‘Servient’ released 2003. 

Tune in to 'A World in London' to hear an exclusive interview with Baloji on SOAS radio from a couple of years ago... 

https://soasradio.org/music/episodes/awil-107-special

 

Lastly, Soundcrash put on some amazing gigs the one I feel is most special that they have planned at the moment is the ‘Wormfood 10 years Special’ with live performances from ‘The Comet is Coming, Afriquoi (You can check out a review of them on my website), Nubiyan Twist, The Turbans and The Busy Twist ft K.OG. The line-up is simply unmissable. Check out tickets on the Soundcrash website (http://www.soundcrashmusic.com/). 

 

http://www.baloji.com/

 

Baloji

Orchestra Baobab

orcover.jpg

31.10.17

KoKo (Camden) 

The setting of this beautiful decadent theatre is decorated with a lush dark velvet red throughout, modern, sleek lights combined with traditional glimmers from fancy chandeliers. The aesthetic of the venue truly shines a romantic hew on the musical exchange ahead. Orchestra Baobab themselves, as any listener of African or Cuban music will know, are mavericks of performance which is so deeply ingrained in Afro-Cuban music, spanning back to the 1960’s. Their stamp on the world music scene as a whole, but in particular of an afro-cuban genre, is undeniably permanent and fundamental to the popularity of the genre and/or related genres. 

 

Within the band we have strong influences from the Western African traditional music of the Kora  which traditionally is only learnt as a hereditary instrument, taught from father to son, and passed down as an aural historical account within the family. Orchestra Baobab have a West African griot (oral historian of music) in the band playing the Kora. As well as this, a percussive section of the ensemble use the traditional Cuban rhythm of Son throughout much of their repertoire. Son itself is embedded eternally within the foundations of Cuban music, with its roots deep within the Afro-centric influences on Cuba dating back in the early 1900s from the afro movements of the Atlantic slave trade. For these reasons, it seems to me that seeing Orchestra Baobab is an opportunity to see a stamp in history; to bear witness to the foundations of much consequential music. Having recently played at the prestigious world music festival WOMAD 2017, Orchestra Baobab have been on a world-wide tour and are playing this evening in Camden’s luxury Koko,  a venue which is fully up to the challenge of hosting our legendary guests.

 

So the evening begins: the stage is filled literally with ten band members for the first piece and likewise the atmosphere is immediately filled to the brim as they embark on playing a taster of their tunes. The group were all wearing traditional cloths of varying colours: Ndiouga Dieng (lead vocals) took to the centre stage with a mini drum set up of two floor drums and a high hat. He wore a contrasting pitch black hat with his pure white tunic; meanwhile the Kora player wore beige, the lead guitar wore a light blue tunic with a white hat, and so on….until we reach the saxophonist who broke away from the tradition and wore an elaborately rainbow-esc suit, complete with a purple velvet jacket and a larger than life, oversized red top hat. A most fitting of outfits for the theatrics of our setting. The music kicked off an immediate appreciation throughout the crowd who began to dance and sway to the irresistibly movable music. 

 

The sound was impeccable. With each instrument tuned perfectly, with the fullest richest texture coming through the sound system, their sound technician must be incredibly familiar with very minute personal details to achieve such a full crisp sound. Each tonality of each instrument strung warmth into the audience. Of course needless to say, what would a workman be without his tools; each musician, in their own right are mavericks with their instruments. Not one member of the ten musicians on stage shied away from epic solos and playful improvised exchanges in the form of call and response between one another. Such as a joust occurs between electric guitar and saxophone as they repeat phrases to each other, or between congas and a full drum kit, or vocals and saxophone. On top if this, we see the drummers within themselves swapping kits for different songs, whilst the lead guitar might crank it up for “shredding” guitar solos to be followed by a lively jousting with the Kora. The Kora itself is a 21 stringed West African harp, and can make the most beautiful sounds, and also keep upbeat dancing rhythms. At times the two saxophonists would play immensely groovy licks in perfect sync with one another, to the amazement of the crowd who were lavished with every musical flourish. The evening had a friendly atmosphere as everyone danced, feeling almost transported to the times when Orchestra Baobab were quite literally the ‘orchestra’ of club Baobab, previously famously known as the ‘Star Club’ of Senegal. 

 

On a personal level, I perhaps had one of my most favourite evenings watching Orchestra Baobab in Koko. On an otherwise weary Monday evening, they brought their eclectic fusion of warm afro-cuban rhythms to breathe an Africa wind into our hearts and our dancing hips. Couples everywhere were dancing the rumba, and people of all ages, be it long term fans from the original 60’s line-up of Orchestra Baobab, or perhaps youngsters who may have been swept up in the vinyl revolution that so helped this band reunite in 2011 and continue to play their music to a new larger demographic. Everyone was dancing smiling, and laughing, it seems the energy of the evening was to be as happy as possible, whilst experiencing impeccable music, played to perfection.

Afriqoui

Afriqoui/cover

21.05.17 

The Mangle (Warburton) 

This review shall only be short and sweet primarily as I was off ‘review-writing-duty’ and therefore took no notes and had no intention to write a review. However after taking along friends whom had never seen Afriqoui and seeing their reaction, I decided I had to write just a little bit about this amazing super group. Formed of a five piece; Afriqoui represent the true meaning of underground fusion. With Congolese guitar parts and Malian Mandinka percussion made up from  Djembe and Congas, Afriqoui mix these traditional instruments with electronic music drawing on house, soca, hiphop and soul. Not to mention the use of the Gambian kora played by Jallykebba Susso; a hereditary griot. Really on paper it can not be stressed enough the amazing unique blend this band have made. It’s high-life, it’s fun, it’s dance and it’s traditional too. 

The band is based in London, and I have been lucky enough to catch them playing a number of times over the years and honestly, they only get better with age. Each member of the band form this ‘super-group’ as they are all band leaders in their own rights, however when they come together to create this eclectic explosion of sound, no other music can be remembered in that moment. 

The evening was a celebration of a special release E.P limited print of which they had on sale. The E.P is called Starship and was available only on vinyl. They released their first E.P in 2015; Kolaba, and then two more in 2016 entitled Abobo Nation Part 1 & 2. So although new to the recorded releases, this formation of musicians have actually been rocking festivals and concerts for years longer. 

I brought three tickets as soon as I found out about the concert, as they often to DJ set’s; it was something not to be missed seeing them perform as a live band. I brought three because without hesitation I knew I’d have no problems at all in convincing friends to come with me. I brought along two very good friends, one who had already seen them with me at Boomtown Festival (2016) and had snatched the ticket up the second I mentioned the event, and another friend who had never seen them. The evening was held in a club that I had never been to before; The Mangle but had sadly however been in the news very recently for a horrendous attack that took place only nights before. This dampened our spirits a little perhaps in the queue outside as we realised this dreadful occurrence. However it took no more than two heart beats from stepping inside the club to fully and completely get in the spirit of things. With DJ Khalab, iZem (DJ set) and Cervo (Banana Hill) preparing the evening, for the band themselves weren’t due stage time till 12:40pm! 

Unsure how I was going to deal with such a horrendously late night; the beats spun throughout the hours waiting where impeccably worth it. I barely stopped dancing for a moment to concern myself with the time. Then sure enough before what seemed like too long, out came Afriqoui. The beautiful instruments filled the stage, and they started. 

There’s not much to say from this point on, as it really is one of those occasions that you ‘had to have been there’ type of events. They played all their songs, and played their new tracks from the E.P, and from beat 1 to the very last song (and the three en-chores demanded of them) the roof was raised and people were jumping high. Barely a moment went past that wasn't ram packed with exciting raving beats. This explosive African electronic band in my opinion are doing what they do better than anyone else. It is such a treat to hear a perfect fusion of music, so perfect it begs how it hadn’t been done before. 

My friend whom was new to the band couldn’t keep still for a single moment the whole evening, along with the band, there wasn’t a stationary space to be seen, everywhere jumping, dancing, singing, clapping, a true concoction of energy. 

I really wrote this small review to promote the band, if I were to personally send you a link to their music, you would immediately add it to your playlists, and further link all your buddies to the music too. Once heard, you can not un hear the brilliance. 

BaBa Zula

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27.04.17

Under the Bridge (Chelsea) 

Having never been to the venue ‘Under the Bridge’ before, I hadn’t realised that the location was placed directly underneath the Chelsea football club. Earlier in the day a friend had told me that the owner of the grounds, had a passion for music and have famously said “ I want to have the best sound-system in London underneath my club”. Despite being told this, I still took a double look when I realised the little blue dot on Google Maps was telling me I had reached my location; to look up and see a huge looming stadium shadowing over me. I enjoyed, for the first time, a look through history at previous players as we took the path around the stadium, past the in-house sports bar, and down following the flashing florescent sign that climbed up the wall. It’s immediate noticeable how glam and glorious this venue was. With she black shiny walls, and dim lights. Then in the main area there’s swanky booths and bar stools. The entire back drop to the stage meets with ceiling in rows of lights that create really immersive lights displays. Needless to say the entire place is decked out with high quality speakers everywhere, complete with two larger than life mixing desks. Decorating silver grating that separated booths and bars are multitudes of large framed photos each with live concert photos from all musicians imaginable. The atmosphere and decor made no secret of the glitzy money put into the place, but also showed a real love for music. 

The band came out and a whirlwind of wonderful craziness took over the next hour or so.

Travelling to Chelsea football club, to step into a venue with a demographic fitting for the location; it wasn’t what came to mind when imagining seeing a band who’s career is a whopping 20 years strong, and are pioneers in experimenting with instruments to span Turkish, psychedelic/rock, reggae/dub genres.  Despite the immediate dancing groves, the audience took a while to fill the standing areas. Baba Zula started with ‘Abdulcanbaz’ and jammed the song for over 10 minutes. Studying ethnomusicology it was with great pleasure that I watched as some truly magnificent instruments were played in such unique ways that it paid homage to the wonderful ‘Baba Zula’ sound.  

On the Baba Zula website, you can see their creative and quirky spin on music with their descriptions of the members and their tools; 

Levent Akman on spoons, percussions, machines, toys,

Murat Ertel on electric saz and other stringed instruments, vocals, oscillators, theremin,

As well as darbuka and percussion player Özgür Çakırlar, 

And Periklis Tsoukalas on electric ud and vocals and tMelike Şahin on vocals,

An electric ud makes for an absolutely transcendent sounds, especially hooked up to a pedal or two. A saz is an instrument traditional to Turkey, where the wonderful Baba Zula hail from. They told us actually of their travels, and not for the first time did we as an audience hear of their immense troubles traveling to England. Songhoy Blues, a sub-Saharan Malian band, had spoken of very similar troubles for their London based gig last month. They had had their instruments searched, been questioned, had belongings lost or held. Baba Zula said they had none of their own leads and pedals, nor their stage costumes. 

Not that any of this in the slightest showed effect on their performance. I was reminded a couple of times of how one can become completely lost in a rhythm, realising that for a few minutes, there were no other thoughts in my head except the rhythm and, amazingly, an electric ud soloing for 3/4 minutes, accompanied by nothing but a doumbek drum. Then hey burst back in, building tensions with the occasional vocals. Concluding in an exciting immersive explosion of groove. 

The end of the song felt like being splashed back into reality, becoming aware of your surroundings once more. I kept proclaiming my heightened love for them, absolutely intensified by a live performance. Whilst listening I was reminded of a bohemian gypsy music/Hendrix mash up. Referring to one another as ‘poets’ seemed fitting as they marched with their instruments militantly across the stage as percussion took the limelight. 

The evening was fun, groovy and absolute non-stopper. At one point the band took the somewhat intimate concert to the next level, and joined the audience in the standing area, they each came down, and continued to drum the repetitive beats, and solo saz. Together we all danced for a solid minute or two. As they re-joined the stage, the wonderfully exotic Melike Sahin joined, dressed in a stunning Turkish ‘Gatsby-esc’ dress dominates the stage and completes the powerful, colourful band.

Baba Zula blew me away with their infectious unique sound, and combine that with the genius lighting that leads from the stage floor , behind the artists, up and over the ceiling. The performance was stunningly psycadelic. One thing however, that must be said about the venue, is that it seems to have failed in completely shaking off the ‘sportsbar’ vibe, with an excellent chorus form the audience, somewhat echoes from the football field. However the real issue was with the staff, I stood at the bar whilst three elderly men were served wrongly before myself. Something that could have been an oversight, however felt more like as the only woman at the bar I was being severely ignored. Lastly, the gentleman in the audience seemed to struggle with the idea that I wasn’t readily available for their dancing pleasures. Nevertheless, after shaking off unwanted attention, and not receiving wanted attention at the bar, my evening was only slightly tainted. 

The evenings performance completely separated the world from that room. All my troubles were forgotten as I stood glued to the every beat. The audience going crazy, everyone jumping and jiving. 

I have come away from Baba Zula yearning to see them again, and desperate to buy their fabulous records. 

Ata Kak

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19.04.17

The Jazz Cafe (Camden) 

This was a concert that I was particularly excited for. Having been sent an email with a link to Ata Kak’s famous ‘Obaa Sima’ album, more than two, three years ago, it’s safe to say I jumped at the opportunity to see such a guy play live. 

Upon venturing to Ata Kak’s ‘Obaa Sima’ album, you will find low-fi, high life, Ghanian rap, dance and hip-hop. A world of confusing excellence. With one of the most unique voices, it takes a while to visualise the musicians behind such tracks. The album was initially self-recorded in the mid 90’s in Ontario, Canada. The album and it’s subsequent tapes had minimal circulation. Over a decade later Brian Shimkovitz, of whom you may know as the sole curator of the small-time label ‘Awesome Tapes From Africa’, found himself purchasing Obaa Sima off a market stall deep within Cape Coast, Ghana in 2002. After listening to the tape, Brian then made it his mission to find the genius behind the ridiculously infectious album. With absolutely relentless rhymes bursting throughout each song, over repeated synth loops, each song sounds somewhat familiar to the last, and leaves a seed growing internally constantly. So it’s no wonder that Shimkovitz traveled to Germany and Ghana and finally Canada, where the album was recorded, where he then found the elusive Ata Kak, and with his permission remastered the album, speeding up the famous ‘Obaa Sima’ which I think really gave it it’s character. Both slow and faster versions can be found when purchasing the vinyl. Then in 2014 together they released the album. 

Since Ata Kak has been travelling around with ‘Esa’ playing the Obaa Sima album to all those who’ll listen. Esa is Ata Kak's band leader and conductor. On the evening at the Jazz Cafe Esa warmed up the audience spinning some reggae, dance-hall tracks on the decks. There was an infectious groove already circulating the world renowned cafe. The demographic somewhat surprised me a little, being that the audience was mainly made up from young 20- somethings with friends all seemingly looking for an up-beat dance-filled night. Esa led the decks and walked on stage, where he was joined by the band members. They then proceeded to play an instrumental funk filled piece, that gained everyone's excited attention. I hadn’t entirely foreseen the audience demographic, however it seems that they all knew what they were doing. When Ata Kak came out, the applaud was raucous, and he himself - Ata he seemed as excited as the audience, coming out, jumping up and down and ‘woop woop’-ing. Esa, who clearly was the organiser of this chaos could be seen organising the band, directing them as to when to play and to not whilst Ata ran around the stage almost like an excited little kid. They launched immediately into ‘Moma Yendodo’ the second track off the album. The songs are filled with such catchy little segments that the audience were all imitating the sounds created by Ata Kak rapping. I found myself even “singing along” repeated the sounds of the words. 

A strange tech spec for the opening few songs, being that there were four keyboards on stage and a bass guitar. Nothing else. One could be seen looping syths, another playing the repeated riffs, and I can only assume there was another keys for chords and such. The woman on the keys also had two microphones that together created slightly distorted double harmonies. All the while Ata Kak seamlessly raps throughout each and every song. The liquidity of his words swam through the air in a poetic way, almost as though I were listening to spoken word. It made the act of clapping along with the beat almost seem soulful. After a few introducing tracks, they brought out the big guns, swapping one set of keys for an electric guitar they proceeded to play the title track ‘Obaa Sima’. The audience really truly erupted, jumping hectically and singing along incredibly loud, so much so that the audience created an almost chorus to the performance. I had never seen the audience quite as excitable in the Jazz Cafe as they were that night. The energy truly became infectious as Ata Kak danced so ferociously from each available space on the stage, laughing and cheering with the audience. It was almost as though it were his first concert, he seemed utterly thrilled. They played Obaa Sima to perfection it must be said. The set was then continued, playing more from the album. 

The Ata Kak announced that he would be playing a new song, to which the audience responded with upmost pleasure and excitement cheering hard. Ata asked us to participate, but repeatedly singing a motif, once we had the hang of it, Ata then attempted an extremely fast passed rap over the top, beaconing the band to not play; “just them, just the audience”. So we in the crowd became Ata Kaks back up singers/chorus. Although the process was great fun, and we made an astonishingly loud surprisingly ‘in-tune’ chorus, so professional perhaps that Ata Kak himself found he couldn’t complete the rap he was trying to do, and after three or four attempts he laughed with Esa in the band prompting him to continue. He announced “You sing so well, it;’s distracting, I have to rap”, so with an applause and a laugh, the audience stopped his requested singing in order to allow him to Finnish his rap. I must say, it was really rather funny. As well as warming, to see a real musician overcome with excitement and happiness. 

The set ended the same way it started, with soaring energy, infectious laughs and absolutely crazy brilliant songs. 

I nearly forgot to mention, Ata Kak himself has to be one of the smoothest movers I’v seen, dancing across the stage with the grooviest of moves and funkiest of grooves, he truly put anyone under the age of his impressive 78 to shame. I can only hope I’m moving with such a swag when I am his age. 

Kadialy Kouyate and Fred Thomas

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05.04.17 

SandsFilms Studios (Rotherhithe) 

The need to take the overground to any given location is always a welcomed treat compared to the monotonous repeated visions of the un-inspiring underground. I was actually previously oblivious to an area called ‘ Rotherhithe’ existing in London; therefore an air of mystery surrounded the non-too long overground journey. Leaving the tube station upon arrival at  Rotherhithe I was happy to see that the venue was a mere two minute walk away; and what a walk it was. In my home city we have an ‘Old Town’ where the pavements are cobbled, the buildings are ancient and the general everyday life takes a relaxed step back from the every day hustle and bustle of modern life. It seemed that I had arrived at Londons solution to the ‘Old Town’; cobbled pavements and all.  

It was a pleasure to walk trough these quaint streets, and upon immediately turning from the station, one could walk up a path and begin to see the River Thames immediately in front. Surely not I thought, having completely misunderstood my personal geography of the area. However the closer I came, sure enough there it was, a beautiful little area, with a bench or two looking out over the Thames from an angle I hadn’t yet seen. The Shard stood far in the distance; a shining reminder of the hectic business of London Town that seemed somewhat unattached to this peaceful area. A little to the left there stood an old-school pub, similar to so many that we see disappearing these days, complete with what appeared as “locals” enjoying conversation with one another outside, in what must be said was a beautifully sunny day. After taking a moment to breath in the immense beauty of the river and it’s views, I took a small walk, less than a minute left down the cobbled path to the SandsFIlmsStudios.

Seen as I had no idea of the locations existents, it would be a fair deduction to assume I had never been to the venue. This assumption would be correct. I entered through a side green wooden door, and found myself  immediately greeted by a fully equipped table of tea and coffee; complete with a homely set of mugs to choose from. Choosing a mug depicting a wondering Puffin Bird and making myself a pipping hot tea, I took a moment to look around. Seemingly a cosy place, with sofas and cushions, it had a community vibe. Walking through the arch way I entered into an archive room full of slim shelves from ceiling to floor each. These supposedly made up some of the Rotherhithe Picture Research Library, which is a free resource providing visual references to all designers and researchers.(whatever they were). The most intrigued guests for the concert were encouraged to have a browse through the archives whilst sipping on tea before following the mysterious winding pathway to where the evenings entertainment was to take place. 

The rumours were true; the seating for the audience was completely made up of comfortable sofas and armchairs side by side creating multiple rows of seats for each person to choose from. Feeling almost spoiled, cuppa in hand, I tucked a little in on the fourth row centre stage, I sank comfortably into a large oversized armchair, complete with extra cushions. The decoration on the walls was somewhat reminiscent of various manner country estates I had visited, perhaps crossed with a warped “haunted house”. Particularly what comes to mind, is their vast collection of (in my opinion) creepy 3D paintings, or framed dolls that look liked they had been rescued from WW2. I read the accompanying leaflet, and learned that SandsFilms Studios, although having been a film company at some point, was mainly now a place that theatres and films would come to make/use/borrow costumes, and by all means, I assumed props. This somewhat explained an amount of period obscurities adorning each available space. Saying this however, the space seemed utterly perfect for an intimate evening. 

After getting everyone settled in, the evening ahead was introduced, then with no further adue Kadialy Kouyate took to the stage with his kora accompanied by Fred Thomas on double bass.

The instrument of the kora is a wonderful West African guitar harp. Somewhat recognisable visually, the kora has a standard 21 strings; or if you’re from the highly prestigious elite griot family of the Kouyates, then perhaps you have an extra 22nd string providing an additional lower octave. The kora is played by using the thumb and for-finger to pluck at the 21/22 strings. The resulting sound is irreplaceably beautiful. 

The kora is an instrument primarily played by members of griot families from Mali, Africa. A griot family is a tradition of story telling and singing that is passed on hereditarily through ancestral family members. It is a skill that is not widely taught nor learned and therefore makes the art well sought after, and something always worth going out of ones way to see. We have very few ‘in house’ griots here in London, however Kadialy Kouyate coming from Senegal and the ancient old line of the ‘Kouyate’ griots, Kadialy moved to London with the aim of teaching and playing the Kora. He now teaches select students at the University of SOAS London the basic techniques and teachings of the kora. As well as this Kadialy has been playing in a multitude of fusions and collaborations, including success in his own original works. 

I personally arrived at the gig already a huge fan of the kora and of Kadialy himself. The demographic of the intimate small audience said that perhaps everyone in the room had previous knowledge of the kora, it’s story and perhaps of Kadialy Koyate. As the lights went out, I felt dangerously comfortable and snug, and found myself thankful for the energy emanating from my tea. However one should never have feared, because the second Kadialy started to play the Kora, the audience silently gave in to the music completely. In intrigue, or awe perhaps the room fell silent and stayed so for the majority of the performance, aside the bursts of applause. Each song far longer than that we’re used to in the West, they start instrumental kora and Double Bass, then at some point in all the songs Kadialy would start to sing in his soft smooth voice. The voice carried over, and works in perfect harmony with the melodies of the music. 

A dark blue velvet sheet sparkling with like a dark night sky made for a perfect backdrop for the artists and their musical story telling. The overall aesthetic of the evening is enough for review in itself. The venue really added to a sense that the audience were hidden away, tucked away from society listening to this special rare music. It really was rather magical. 

Kadialy sung songs from his album Na Kitabo; of which you can buy on all media platforms, with themes of love and family. The performance was broken into two sections by a fitting interval. One could replenish their coffee’s and tea’s, and have a chance to ‘break-bread’ with Kadialy Kouyate himself. After a short break the evening continued, and Kadialy finished the evening with songs about ancestry, the griots travelling, humanity and traditions. Along side all this, it must be noted that Fred Thomas played most admirably, the addition of the double bass added a very distinctive drive, that would have been sorely missed had it not been there. As well as the bass, Fred also during one song played a little percussion adding versatility to the overall sound. 

This step back in time allowed for one evening to forget about the business of the world, the hectic rings of our phones and of our constant communications. Far away on the overground, following a quaint cobbled street, beneath an archive library, tucked away in a comfortable sofa with a hot beverage; I highly recommend the SandsFilms location to anyone, and furthermore the wonderful music of Kadialy Kouyate accompanied by the multi-talented Fred Thomas. 

Farai and the Forest Dawn and the Kihaya Blues

Rich Mix (Brick Lane) 

25.03.17 

 

I arrived at the Rich Mix around 9pm and was happy to see that the supporting act ‘Kihaya Blues’ were still yet to play. Given that it is a Saturday night, I think the whole evening had been shuffled to later set times to ensure more people arriving. 

    I and never seen the headlining band, but had heard fantastic things about their energy and so was rather looking forward to it. When I arrived, the audience was looking somewhat thin, I think for this reason, the venue decided to put out a few tables and chair in the standing area. This certainly helped immensely, as the previously dreary looking audience suddenly looked far thicker, and sure enough lured many more people through the doors, till eventually those sat in the chairs no longer had the best views in the house. 

    I had had the pleasure of meeting the main man from the support act Kihaya Blues; Kiyazi Lugangira earlier in the week on Dj Ritu’s ‘A World In London’ radio show at Resonance FM. On the show Kayazi had spoken to us about the influences of his music, and played us a few tracks. I knew from the show that Kiyazi was from Tanzania, and the title of his band ‘Kihaya Blues’, was infact the name of his Swahilian mother tongue language he was singing and writing his songs in; Kihaya. He told us how his mother had said that he sounded more beautiful singing in this language; I’d have to say I probably agree as it has more beauty than perhaps the English language. Kiyazi was joined on stage by his band which included the fairly western set up of, bass drums, acoustic guitar however with an added Djembe bringing in those more African rhythms. The band although singing Kiyazis Tanzanian songs, are London based playing a variety of genres from latin to Brazilian and High Life. Kiyazi said him and his band are ‘soldiers of peace’. Each song the band played was happy, upbeat, Kiyazi has a beautiful husk to his soulful voice. Kiyazi said that he listened to lots of his parents 70’s soul vinyl growing up and has transferred that love and passion into singing and writing African Soul. The band played perfectly together, as Kiyazi was the perfect front man, talking laughing and interacting withthe audience. He encouraged dancing and clapping and certainly warmed the audience up for the main act. Kiyazi introduced a song that (translated) means ‘Teacher’ to which he said; 

   “You are my teacher and I am the student”, he then continued to play with sass and soul, keeping a groove going throughout the room and throughout the audience. 

   It seems to me that the Kiyaha Blues mixed western structures with African rhythms and melodic lines, as well as Kiyazis beautiful Kihaya singing. The whole band came off extremely cool. They played for a lengthy time as well, nearing 45 minutes, as they continued to play itseemed generally relaxed about set times, it was nice to hear a little more and little more from a beautiful band making beautiful music. 

 

When Farai and the Forest Dawn came to the stage around 10:30pm, I really wasn’t sure what to expect as they came out. All dressed in matching black and white, they looked very smart and professional. Their first song jumped straight in with a seriously funky bass line driving the song heavily forward. I couldn’t help but immediately enjoy the firey funk, and then… Farai then started to sing. I was taken back, jaw droopingly shocked by his voice. Sounding like all the soulful greats we hear mostly on old vinyl these days, he was reminiscent Marvin Gaye, James Brown and reminded me of a slightly more contemporary Aloe Blacc. With a stunning beauty to his voice, I found myself completely hooked on their music. I almost couldn’t wait for each next track. Varying his vocal talents from high pitched trills, to reaching lower octaves that I rarely hear in concert. More so than that, Farai also stunned at his rapping skills. Versatile indeed with these shockingly fabulous vocals. 

    The band behind Farai were certainly worthy of such a colourful front man. Farai gave all the band leader credit to the female bassist. Who seemingly blushing waved his attention away. When they started the rest of their set, it became apparent very quickly the immense skills Farai and the Forest Dawn have at demanding the audiences attention has. Stirring up almost completely with each new track, new variety of singing, new pitches I hadn’t heard sung live. All in all I found Farai’s performance quite literally- immense. I found myself unable to stop ‘skanking’ in some songs and in others moved near to tears with emotion. It felt as though this venue could easily be a packed stadium, with the the Forest Dawn nailing the exact recipe for commercial success as well as niche world music success. 

   I remember when I first started to play gigs a promoter told me that I must play every single gig as though it’s a sold out O2 arena. I had failed you see to sustain enthusiasm to the one solo person who had attended my gig that night. I found myself thinking what a shame it was for Farai and the Forest Dawn that the concertwas on a busy Saturday night and wasn’t absolutely ram packed, however in saying that. Farai and the Forest Dawn most certainly played with an almighty gusto, and consequently made me feel as if it were the sold out O2. I felt moved and a little honoured to be there that evening, and left feeling that I had seen perhaps something very special. Perhaps something that wouldn’t be seen so soon again in venue of such modest capacity. Farai said of his songs 

   “You must let them relate to you, as you feel it”. 

I rather liked this statement, as apposed to telling us the story behind his lyrics to make it more accessible, asking the audience to make it accessible to them in their own way gave an more unique experience to each person there. 

   The audience had very few students, mainly an older generations, this gave me the the impression that perhaps Farai was a well kept secret; that only a few knew about. I noticed in the audience a few people from other World music bands from around town, again adding to the elite feeling of being in that audience that Saturday night. 

   I left the Rich Mix that evening, impressed and somewhat stunned. Farai and the Forest Dawn certainly have a fan in me. I’ll be eagerly awaiting seeing them in concert again with my fingers crossed its sooner rather than later. 

Farai

Songhoy Blues

23.03.17

Omeara (London Bridge)

As soon as I received notification that Songhoy Blues were playing in town, I knew it was an evening I had to attend. I hadn’t listened extensively to the bands repertoire (e.i Album by Album), however had been absolutely attached through a few key songs. These desert punk and blues songs I believe are attractive to everyone who enjoys a taste of the worldlier music. I found that my ‘punk-loving’ Godfather was even envious of my ticket, so it seems that Songhoy have managed tospread their net far and wide, catching the interest of a huge demographic.

    The band released their debut album ‘Music in Exile’ via Transgressive Records label in onlyFebruary 2015. In that very short two years, the band have managed to secure global acclaim and have highlighted themselves an explosive band dominating the ‘desert blues’ genre. 

    It was for this reason that the venue came as a little surprise as it’s not the largest (by far) of venues. It seemed that the evening was set to be an intimate performance as apposed to the larger capacity space I’m sure they could pull off. 

   The Omega is a fantastic little venue, with an incredibly exciting buzz. With a wonderful, if slightly confusing lay out, you can get lost in the little mysterious stairways that lead to upstairs bars, that themselves hang over a dance floor bellow. With twists and turns here and there you’ll be forever discovering small places to enjoy a beer, have a chat or get a bite to eat. Some may not even notice that beside their eating and drinking; there is a modest venue playing live music. 

    Upon arrival I was treated by extremely polite staff who directed me to the venue and gave us the obligatory stamp on the wrist and in we went. 

   Set in a all-brick arch, with a theatre-esc stage, the space is wonderful for live music, with the sound bouncing of the arched ceilings it created a small and intimate space for the audience. Given it’s size and sound quality it seemed nearly impossible to get a ‘bad’ standing space for the performance. The space of the whole building, and especially the stage area is a marvellous feat of old and new, the art with the classic architecture and innovation. It feels as though you are standing in an old underground with the best speakers and music tech surrounding you. The stage reminds me of an old pop-up book I had when I was younger, at one level we have the room and audience, then the stage pops up, then the performers pop up one behind, then finally a wall block of myst and lights to really set each layer apart. 

   Songhoy Blues came out on the stage and jumped immediately into their up-beat fast paced song; Soubour. The guitars really had an amazing sound, with the two lead guitarist playing on classic Gibson Les Pauls; their crisp sound resonated through the tiny arched space engulfing the whole room. The energy never failed to fall as they jumped straight into their next track, the extremely recogniseable Al Hassidi Terei. 

 It soon came to fruition however, that this amazing space was somewhat ‘un-drummer friendly’, seen as I came to realise that all I could see of the drummer was the occasional drum stick poking through the mist. Something the venue needs to work on, however it really must be said that the overall effect of having the stage tucked inside this unique space really is fantastic, with the lights shining through a thick layer of dry ice, made for such dramatic visuals it was actually very nearly besotting.

   The performance that Songhoy Blues then proceeded to play, was undeniably amazing. The audience; varied in every way absolutely loving every second were in the palm of their hand, with applauses filling the room mid song and nearing the end of every song too. Not once did a single foot stop tapping away to the extremely tight professional tunes. It felt as though I had never listened to another artists whilst in the concert as they took over all the senses completely and had my body and mind completely attached to their every note. 

    It was stunning the ferocity of each track, one after another it seemed they were a well established band at the end of their story playing nothing but ‘one hit wonders’. On the contrary however the Garba Touré Aliou Touré (lead singer) said to the audience;

   “This is an intimate gig, a family gig if you will… If you want to see us again, we will be headlining Somerset House on the 16th of July”

If this performance was only an intimate family version of their ‘headlining’ set, then we’d all be fools not to be there when they really go for it. 

   Their songs also carried messages that rung somewhat bitterly true for at least I’m sure all the British citizens in the room. Given that our wonderful Prime Minster had promised to start the proceedings for leaving the EU (a.k.a Brexit) it is known that this will hold complications for everyone travelling to and from the UK. So when the band made the shocking statement the the gentleman playing bass for them had only practiced a total of two hours with the band as he is not the original bass player. The reason being that their bassist had found himself refused entree into the UK, it seemed a shared sigh and a communal ‘shaking of the head’ swept the audience. I found myself wondering how many other wonderful musicians we are going to be deprived off in the future. The band expressed their feelings about this happening, and told us how it is not something new to them. They spoke of the many injustices caused by their ethnicity and skin color and then introduced a song they had written about it. The song was entitled ‘One Color’ which received a roaring applause, as one of the more well known tracks from the band, it was amazing to be apart of the story telling behind the writing. 

  “Our Ethnicity, Our skin color, Our origin - It doesn’t matter. Music is mutual, Music is different, Music is everyday” - inspiring words from Songhoy that certainly helped to build a feeling of solidarity among the audience. 

   I could have been at this Songhoy Blues concert with my best friends, having a crazy time or with my Godfather or with family, with anyone basically. I believe that their feel-good, afro funk vibes would have encapsulated any member of any audience. I came away from the gig, smiling ear to ear, a newly dedicated fan to the band; eager to get home and buy all their albums. 

   If you get the chance to see them live, it seems to me an absolute must, as their energy and happiness is highly infectious.

SOFAR SOUNDS Presents: Let Drum Beat, Lectures, Carmen Souza Trio

20.03.17

JuJus’s Bar and Stage (Brick Lane)

 

OnDJ Ritu’s ‘A World In London’ at Resonance Radio on the 15.3.17 we had special guests; the fantastic all female ‘Let Drum Beat’. It was on this radio show that they told us of their top-secret gig coming up in London that was being presented by Sofar Sounds. Eager indeed to hear these women play again, I applied via the Sofar Sounds website for the date that they had confirmed they would be playing. I was intrigued as to the Sofar Sounds process; I was told it was top secret; the venue and the acts, and that I would receive and email the day before the date with the details of the following event. So I signed up on their website, and waited. 

    Surely enough on Sunday night, I received an email, albeit a tad more informative; I still had no idea of the acts I would be seeing along side Let Drum Beat, but I did however know that the event was being held in JuJus’s Bar and Stage. JuJu’s Bar and Stage is a little hidden, noticeable by only a sandwich board, consequently my ‘Google Maps’ that often enjoys sending me on incorrect wild chicken chases, I ended up at the wrong end of Brick Lane. Not all was lost however, asthis detour allowed me a world famous ‘Salted Beef Bagel’ (mustard free for me) from ‘Beigel Bake’ (159 Brick Lane). A must for any visitors, and a delicious treat for any home town Londoners. 

   Bagel baked, and lips licked, I eventually found JuJu’s, had my name found on the intimate list of guests, and in I went. Juju’s is a fantastic space, with a spacious ‘stage’ elevated from the floor to the right, with room to dance, with a bar that stretches far left with high ceilings and an open feel, JuJu’s seemed perfect to hold a Sofar Sounds project. 

 

Blankets, Camera, Action! 

 

The evening was hosted by a Sofar sounds representative who took the moment to explain a little how the evenings worked and how they came out. Supposedly the project has been running for over eight years now, and has been awarded funding from Richard Branson. Since this investment, they have grown substantially, now being active in over 300 cities world wide including LA and Paris. The idea is simple, if you have a venue, be it your living room or your bar, you can apply to volunteer your space for an evening of music. From there Sofar Sounds will find suitable acts, lights and cameras, blankets and all manner of things to make the evening comfortable. They also encourage you to bring your own alcohol and food. Sofar Sounds films the evening that is performed acoustically, with simply just a few recording mics, then makes a rather fancy looking video that can be used by everyone involved. 

    This is an idea I can totally get on board with. The host said “Are you frustrated with going to concerts and you can’t see because people are on their phones” - this I could relate to easily, having recently been frustrated by a group of elderly people at a balkan concert who filmed the entire event ‘live to Facebook’. I also find myself frequently wondering if I am stood behind quite possibly the tallest man alive, and have to make do with seeing half the performances faces, as the gentleman in front allows an ‘every other beat’ window of vision with his side-to-side swaying. These are the kinds of things that can become grating at concerts.

   Sofar Sounds has really capitalised on these annoyances, and created a live space for music lovers, where they can come together with a shared respect for the music, and have a relaxed chilled out evening, enjoying, seeing and hearing all the music. Keeping the capacity to 50 people max, is probably a sensible number to keep under control. Finally the matter of the anonymous performers I think is actually a touch of genius. It’s ideas such as this, that I believe are imperative to the survival of live music events such as these. 

Anyway, on to the music!

  So the first band to be introduced were our friends ‘Let Drum Beat’. The performance area had their wonderful exotic collection of percussion instruments from Brazil, Benin and I’m sure miscellaneous other collections. Un-like when these wonderful women played on ‘A World In London’, they had no bass player, but instead a double bass player. They joined their instruments on stage, each women looking exotically beautiful and worldly. They then proceeded to treat us to some perfectly gorgeous Aro-Brazillan tracks the first of which started soft and gentle, and gradually built up to a climactic end. It seemed as though, as the track grew thicker, the audiences smiles grew broader. Like the arrival of spring coming through the darkness. It really felt as if Let Drum Beat were a breath of fresh air. Their second song compromised of simply an acoustic guitar and the Berimbau, a west African mouth bow, but a more modern Brazilian adaption. This song had such as driving force behind it, and an almost dangerous sounding thrive. It somewhat reminded me of the soundtrack to the world wide ‘Breaking Bad’ TV series. The third song really heard the cello fusing with the Brazilian, telling us that this song was inspire by North East Brazil. They spoke of how the ‘Tukra’ language had inspired them, and how they have been fusing the more melodic instruments to their percussion heavy repertoire. They said that;

 “Through music, we can keep everything alive”. 

The band are recording and EP and have a few gigs coming up that can be found on all standard platforms. 

 

As they left the performance area, we were told there’d be a 10/15 minute break before the next act. I was unaware of the structure of the evening initially, however having thought about it, having three half hour sets, with small breaks seems like a good balance, and a nice amount of music for one evening. Allowing the audience to stretch, chat, and get back to enjoying the music. 

    The next band that performed were introduced as ‘Lectures’. They consisted of a bass, acoustic guitar and vocals, a Prophet ’08 keys and synth and a small acoustic drums set up. Their music can be described as ambient, soft, indie, perhaps a little rock too. I rather liked the unique voice of the singer, and the calm energy radiating from their performance. Their overall sound reminded me of a mash up between Alt J and Jake Bugg, however in saying that, they certainly sounded original to their own sound, and had more soulful melodic lines. Their EP ‘Entree Point’ came out the week previous to this concert, and they played u the title track. From this title track I shall certainly be giving the whole Ep a listen. The rest of their tracks came with an effortless soulful groove. I particularly liked the old school keys to synth combination creating an ambient structure for their songs. For their song; ‘Peaches’ started with a driving drum gently thumping throughout, of which I like as a rhythm. However this is where my first criticism comes in, it seemed that the acoustic environment should perhaps have allowed for simply drums and vocals, as the combination of the two drowned one another out, making it very hard to hear and follow the lyrics. Although this was a shame, their last song pulled through and finished the set on an up. As with most their songs, the endings are somewhat abrupt and out the blue, a trait that I found I had warmed too in their musicality, almost taken a back, the audience realises the songs over, then reply with a warm applause. 

 

Next up was the Carmen Souza Trio. Quite the introduction they received, having released five albums, and soon to be releasing their sixth, this afro-jazz and soul band were perhaps the most experienced of the three acts to the performing that evening. Immediately I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the singers guitar and specialised guitar amp. I couldn’t quite get the make of the two, however the guitar was quite the spectacle of beauty. Accompanying this stunning set up was a bass guitarist and a small acoustic jazz drum set up. The band went forth and played a stunning set of soulful, jazzy tunes, sung I believe in French. The singer had the most stunning high end trills in her voice, frequently skipping octaves all together. There was an overall impression of professionality. They traveled through a variety of genre sounds whilst keeping it rapped up in this smooth delivery. I thought I heard some Seben guitar, a little Brazilian rhythms. Their songs were entitled things such as ‘Bird’, and ‘Hand of God’. The drummer took a chance to shine with a small drumming solo, that had each member of the audience air tapping along on their legs, the bass was strong and driving throughout, accompanied by an awesome, what we call in the industry - Bass Face. The band asked for some audience participation. Perhaps it is because of the smaller more particular audience, however the “sing along with me Mozambe!” back and forth chanting sounded remarkably professional and actually rather poetic. So ten out of ten to the beautifully sounding audience, that really made their set special, all inclusive, and really rather lovely. 

 

As I left that evening at a gorgeously reasonable 10pm. I felt fulfilled having seen three professional bands, with a quick and efficient turn around, a comfortable and accessible view and an evening of lovely entertainment. I am rather impressed with the Sofar Sounds set-up, and hope that it will continue, and also inspire like minded people to create more of these environments for live music. 

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Congo Dia NTotila

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12.03.17

Hootenannys (Brixton)

 

Hootanannys hosts the very best of anything upbeat; reggae, world, gypsy, dub, you name it, and is well known for it’s friendly atmosphere, with a pool table, plenty of spaces to sit and chat and hide away in corners, as well as a large dedicated space to live music and dancing. This is why I knew that making the pilgrimage on the Victoria tube, all the way to the end of the line on a Sunday, would be absolutely worth it. 

    I was making this journey to see Congolese fused band ‘Congo Dia Ntotila’. The week previous we had the pleasure of Congo Dia Ntotila performing on ‘A World In London’ @ Resonance FM. On the show they described how they have been working together to create this music that speaks patriotically of the Congo and of the Congolese music that bassist Mulele Matondo had been teaching his friends; John Kelly on Congolese seben styled guitar, Mike Sopa on trumpet and William Scott on saxophone, both trained in Jazz, and finally David Lessie of whom came from the same place as Mulele in the Congo, on lead vocals and drums. Whilst on the show they previewed a taste of their original afro-jazz-dance blend, enough to ensure that their upcoming concert could not be missed. It is also worth noting how on the radio show, the band spoke of their deep alliance with the music of the Congo, and how they wished their music to be perceived, politically and literally. Furthermore they spoke of the pleasure of being in a band where each member helped to create the music, each writing and composing their songs together as one working music machine. 

     When I arrived at the venue, I decided to try the ‘Hootanannys Home made Pale-Ale’, and much to my delight, I found it delicious and pleasant, a good companion for an evening of jigging and gigging. The room initially took a little persuading to fill up, however once the band had started their energetic, infectious music, the dance floor soon became obscured with grooving bodies swaying to the rhythms. 

    When they first came out, Congo Dia Ntotila played a slightly more jazzier tune fused with a heavy driving bass. They dedicated their first song also to the people of the Congo in doing so somewhat setting the scene a little. I felt as though the music they were playing had come straight from the Congo, and was being performed for us here in London as an education. Mulele playing the bass I noticed also had a whistle around his neck and from this, I knew we were in for an high energy fun filled evening of dancing and smiling. 

    The second song the band played was introduced as ‘a journey to Jamaica’, and hence forth followed a reggae tune. I must confess that reggae has a special place in my heart, therefore it came as no surprise that I particularly loved this track. Infused with embellishes from the whistle, and the occasional ‘ay-ay-ay’ from an audience member, the song certainly had people dancing throughout. 

    It must be said what a pleasure it is to see a band where the lead vocals come from the drummer, and such a soulful voice also. This factor of the bands make-up certainly for me addslevels of musicianship and talent with perhaps even a touch of disbelief at the skills on show. The small yet humble brass section to the band; William and Mike showed off their particular talents too, each having various solos highlighting the jazzier elements to the band, but also adding a unmistakably catchy riffs into the musical structure. 

    The third song brought a more African-dance energy to the audience, with Mulele on bass instructing the audience on how to dance. This creating a truly warm atmosphere, with audience and band laughing together, dancing together, and enjoying the shared musical experience. Multiple times also ‘More fire’ was called from the stage, encouraging the audience to retaliate the saying back further strengthening the relationship between band and non band members. 

    Throughout the evening, various people showcased talents in dancing. One member of the audience even managed to get a microphone slot during Congo Via Ntotila’s final song, as he claimed it was ‘his music from the Congo’ so the band welcomed the stranger as a ‘brother’ to the stage. The gentleman then proceeded to sing passionately, and impressively, and then began to somewhat scream, at which point the band took back control and fuelled the audience into a final goodbye. 

   What I particularly enjoyed from Congo Dia Ntotila, firstly was the length of the songs. Each far longer than that of what we tend to compose here in the west. The length allowed for a sense of journeying with the band through their music and their message. Bringing me on to my second point; the message that each song carried. Each song seemed to have a point to it, and each song obviously held deep meaning to the band, as Mulele would introduce the songs and talk of the issues in the Congo for instance, but also talking of the uplifting music of the Congo that is very obviously held is such high regard and pride for the band. 

    The musicianship of the band members was noticeably very professional, and very profound. With lead guitarist Mike nailing the complicated methods of Congolese Seben guitar playing in a couple insanely awesome guitar solos, and the diverse complex bass lines from Mulele, with the obvious multi-talents of David on drums and vocals, finally completed by the funky trumpet and sax. The overall compositions were in my opinion amazing, almost transcendent of being in the Congo hearing real music played by real people. 

    Congo dia Ntotila have been working hard in the studio for their upcoming album, and the band can be followed on Facebook for updates on forthcoming concerts and events.