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.