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.