Kel Assouf - The Lexington - 23rd February

Picture by Ilka Media - http://www.ilkamedia.com

Picture by Ilka Media - http://www.ilkamedia.com

The Lexington is a legendary little venue on Pentonville Road, and although kind of small, has seen many many a star through it’s doors. 


This Saturday evening we were to be treated to the Sahara sounds of Kel Assouff - having just released his latest album ‘Black Tenere’ with prestigious Glitterbeat Records. 

 

I approached the room sad as it was rather empty, I knew there were many music events on on this particular evening, but for me, there is nearly no sound I’d prefer than that from the Sahel. 


Anana Harouna mirrors many of the Tuareg (from here to to be referred to as Key Tamasheq) story: born in Niger, a short stay in Libya - but then unlike his fellow musicians, he went to Brussels and from there he forged this new fused Kel Tamasheq rock and roll. 

 

Distinctly different in sound to the standard Sahara blues, this has more Euro-influenced riffs, and a real western ‘rock’n’roll’ grit to it.

 

Tony Njoku opened the evening with an amazing blur of all things keys and sythns electro style. I must say with the vocals and live ambience, I very much enjoyed seeing him play, and very much preferred it to listing to his music online. 

It must be said that the room certainly filled largely when Kel Assouf came to the stage in a trio, drums, keys and of course, Anana on ripping guitar. 

Th evening moulded from long minimal melodic compositions strung with emotions resonating from Ananas notable Gibson Flying V guitar. Then at the upbeat moments, with the grooves thundering through the audience as not one person could remain still without the characteristic clapping that so often accompanies Kel Tamasheq music. 

The evening felt somewhat nostalgic, the tons of the desert resonating through Kel Assouf. I enjoyed every moment, as it seemed did everyone around me, from rock n roll face melting guitar licks, to romantically plucked acoustic tracks - the music was of brilliant standard. 

Pictures by: Ilka. http://www.ilkamedia.com/

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. 

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 

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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. 

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 

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.

Ata Kak

AtaKakCover

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

Kadialy Cover.jpg

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.