Childish Gambino - O2 March 2019

Before you read this review of one of Childish Gambino’s final performances, I highly recommend you read my critical analysis of Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ to really understand the political context of the proceeding event.


A solid 9/10

“This is a spiritual place, this is our church… I don’t wanna see any phones, we are here, in the moment.”

Church of Gambino indeed, as the 35 year old took to the sold out ‘busiest music venue in the world’ in the O2 London, Greenwich, an intriguing light show beams across the length of the second largest stadium in the UK, to a dark sheet covering the entirety of the stage - all to climax at the dropping of the sheet to reveal Gambino perched on an extended walk way piercing through the silent arena with a gospel-esc scream accompanied solely by a roaring church organ. 

The feeling quickly turned to anticipation, the audience were about to be apart of something, and as he reminded the eager crowd that this is destined to be the last tour of Donald Glovers alter ego: hip-hop funk soul star Childish Gambino - he then welcomed us to his spiritual church, humby thanking every single person in attendance stated he will “love you forever” claiming he could never have believed he’d play in the O2.

Gambino played through his classics, not missing a single note even in his fast flowing trap, and high note bending gospel esc tunes. He treated the crowd to the favourites: ‘Boogieman’ had everyone dancing, no seat remained sat in. Together we traveled through the various energies of Gambino, from the understated funk of ‘Summertime Magic’, to the atmospheric soundscapes of  tracks like ‘1.The Worst Guys’ and ’11. Worldstar’, to the low-fi rhythms in ‘Late Night in Kauai’. To the new soul funk of tracks from latest album ‘Awake My Love’. 

Furthermore, Gambino hailed his disciples by joining them in the crowd during his performance, and silencing the entire arena during an a cappella in which he showed of his falsetto skills, and appeared to be in awe at surrounding himself by the the crowd - who in turn, were completely mesmerised and awe struck back. ‘Sober’ that had an audience led chorus singing throughout.

The highly anticipated ‘This Is America’ appropriately was the finale before the en-chore, during which the dancers performed the famous dance choreographed by Sherrie Silver. Gambino did not hold back in his subtle political hints the type characterised by this monuments video. He apologised for Trump, and gave his condolences for Brexit whilst encouraging communal friendship and sharing a ‘smoke’.

I felt as though I were a disciple, since his ‘This Is America’ Glover must be (in my opinion) understood as something like a revolutionary. In his every move, he hints at his disappointment in the American and Global race war. His unkept will beard for one, perhaps signifying the ‘unkept wild’ Blackman in America, alongside his decision to adorn a bare chest throughout - taking that rural image of the African American and instead wearing both as proud beacons of his heritage. All very primal and rural imagery, re-appropriated in a capitalist setting of the large concert arena. 

In the same way he wears the trousers representative of colonial oppression from the video, and danced distorted throughout echoing imagery of the racist characterisation of black people in the states ‘Jim Crow’ whilst also re-appropriating the imagery by mixing elements of political music pioneer Fela Kuti - and taking the style completely for his own. 

His dancing throughout was incredible to watch, whilst the large moveable light screens behind created fascinating visuals.  He also took the time to thank all his musicians individually of which, over half were women including all soloists. 

 

He also treated the crowd to a new song, promised to be out soon, nevertheless before the ending of Childish Gambino. 

After the en-chore, Gambino returned to finish the show with his soul/funk classic ‘Redbone’ which saw the crowd literally emotionally go wild.

Gambino is more than perhaps one of the best entertainers, he has taken his platform perhaps more ‘real’ than most, speaking out and up for political causes and mis-treatment socially commenting on previously taboo topics. A man of this calibre doesn’t come around often: a writer, director, actor, comedian, producer, performer and more-over all the above: an activist. 


His flow’s, raps, drops and beats are varied and nostalgic. All in all I give his show a solid 9/10. 

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/

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

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

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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. 

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.