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/

Seby Ntege

SebyNtege

14.10.18

Green Notes (Camden)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Waters ‘Us + Them’ Tour

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

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

06.07.18 

Hyde Park

 

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

 

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

 

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

KKK Trump

KKK Trump

 

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

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

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

 

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

Stay Human OR Die

Stay Human OR Die

 

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

Battersea in Hyde Park

Battersea in Hyde Park

 

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

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

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

 

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

Baby Trump

Baby Trump

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

PEACE to ALL. 

Finale

Finale

Širom

Sirom

@ Café Oto (East) 

08.05.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imarhan

imarhan
Imarhan

22.03.17

Rough Trade (East)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imarhan
Imahran
Imarhan
Imarhan

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

19.03.18 

Jazz Cafe (Camden) 

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

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

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

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

16113340_1191188670936521_2118651781065976314_o_1484736664_crop_550x580.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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

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

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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. 

Farai and the Forest Dawn and the Kihaya Blues

Rich Mix (Brick Lane) 

25.03.17 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farai

Congo Dia NTotila

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12.03.17

Hootenannys (Brixton)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namlo, with special guests Kadialy Kouyate and Merlyn Driver.

Namlo Content

02.03.17

The Rich Mix

 

The Rich Mix is renowned for staging some of Londons finest world music evenings, I felt highly anticipated for the evening ahead.  Having not previously heard of the headlining band ‘Namlo’, I was unsure what to expect. My first surprise came upon arrival, seeing the room decked out with chairs. The layout worked well with chairs in the standing area and also nearer the back, the space was warm and welcoming. 

 

I happily chose a seat a few rows from the front and settled down. To the right of the stage homemade food was available; a Nepalese menu put on by ‘YakBites’, vegan and gluten-free. In the spirit of the evening I treated myself to a ‘platter’ in order to have a small taste of everything. This included ‘Chana Chatpatey’ (puffed rice and vegetables), Pani Puri (pastry balls and potato salad), Shyerpa Salad, Pukka Pakoras (coconut and chickpea fritters, and a special sauce), and finally,  Aloo Achar with Bara (lentil fritters and potato salad). Each segment of the platter tasted delicious with powerful tastes coming from surprising places. YakBites also offers a variety of workshops on how to make the food of Nepal, information for this can be found on their website/Facebook. 

 

Well fed and ready for some music, hosts Wallee McDonnell and DJ Ritu welcomed in the evening, whilst speaking a little of the forthcoming acts. Walllee is essentially a third of the ‘Celebrate Life’ group that hosts evenings of arts/music and aims to combine the arts with meaningful messages. DJ Ritu is a renowned radio presenter, among a multitude of other things, from ‘A World In London’ which has over 200 episodes and catalogues a who’s who of the world music scene.  

 

The first act of the evening was ‘Merlyn Driver’ who is a singer songwriter from the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland, although currently based in London. Merlyn was joined on stage for backing vocals by Anna Merryfield. Although describing growing up in the remote parts of Scotland and his inspiration from Scottish Folk music, Merlyn has a deceivingly British accent. Both sat down, Merlyn started his set. The first song by Merlyn was an original entitled ‘Rain’. With just an acoustic guitar and the odd fluttering vocal harmony from Anna, Merlyn managed to silence a room with his poetic lyrics and sombre guitar. Clearly folk in genre, two of the songs Merlyn played; ‘Rain’ and ‘The Descent’ were tasters from his upcoming EP ‘This is the Corner of a Larger Field’, which will be launched in late May. Merlyn mentioned that the performance was the first time he was hearing his guitar aloud due to using new guitar pick up. The guitar sounded beautiful, being a player myself, I had to ask; the pick up was the ‘L.R Braggs M1 Active’ pick-up (and it sounded fab). Together the two also played a cover of Anais Mitchell's 'Young Man in America’, suiting Merlyns velvety vocals with Anna’s almost harrowingly beautiful harmonies.

 

The second act followed shortly, however in between acts DJ Ritu treated our ears to some desert blues and Nepalese folk music, ensuring tapping feet continued between acts. 

 

Kadialy Kouyate came alone onto the stage holding the beautiful west African instrument that is the Kora. Kadialy was born into one of the greatest most renowned Griot families in Southern Senegal; the Kouyate family. Kadialy helped to continue the family tradition of music playing and story telling beyond his home, moving to London many years ago to teach and to play the Kora. Having met Kadialy as part of my studies, I already had an idea of his character. Therefore his extremely smooth and charming performance came as no surprise. The audience heard three songs from Kadialy telling stories of the ‘truest’ love and of peace. There would be no mistake of Kadialys superior Kora playing, not only because of the extra 22nd string as apposed to the standard 21, nor because of the high end plug-in adaption on his Kora, but rather for the soulful way in which Kadialy seamlessly played at immense speed, whilst singing deep soft poetic lyrics. Although I failed to understand the language of the lyrics, through the language of music Kadialy became at one with body mind and soul whilst playing through these beautifully intense songs. Kadialy is returning to the Rich Mix after a successful album launch in December 2016 entitled ‘Na Kitabo’ of which can be found on all standard platforms, and also on the 5th of April at Sands Films.

 

Next up the main act! I had never heard Namlo before and therefore didn’t know what to expect. I could see a huge double bass on stage, amongst a variety of Nepalese percussions stood a wonderful west African drum named the Kalabash. There were also flutes and clarinets and a couple of guitars on stage. All of these wonderful instruments made up the ensemble based around Ganga Thapa. Ganga is the composer of Namlo, and is the creator behind the Nepalese fusion band. Although based in London, it is Gangas aim to raise the profile of Nepalese music globally. 

 

‘Se Se Se’ was the opening track from the Namlo band. I found it had a springily deep funky bass line throughout, a little shocked at this rock’n’roll-esc entrance, the whole audience erupted into an excited applause, kicking off Namlos set with an undeniably high energy. Ganga had put the lyrics and title of each track on screen for all to see. Doing so ensured that the true messages and themes of the songs came across to the audience. A fabulous mixture of up-beat happy songs, and some more mellow serious songs focusing on cultural and sociological issues. A particular favourite of the evening came when Ganga said: 

 “Let’s keep laughing and holding on to our memories of love”  which led to some audience participation, with a rhythmic ‘har-har’ laughing segment, everyone was involved. Gangas personality came across incredibly warm and friendly, showing great respect for his fellow musicians, ensuring they had all been introduced and applauded. 

 “I’m a little nervous today” Ganga said shortly after opening his set. Nevertheless he needn’t have been for the audience seemed completely enthralled in his completely diverse music. I at one moment found myself smiling longingly at the sweet beauty of a song, and then next completely involved in ‘Mountain Goove’ with groovy rhythms coming from the percussion and bass. Ganga helped to embellish these tracks by fusing sounds from his (apparently new) blues guitar. This mixture of sounds worked so perfectly with one another the evening flew by with a happy ease.  

 

 

Ganga said “Through the Music we connect”. From Scotland, to Senegal, Nepal to London, audience and musicians alike certainly connected through the album launch of Namlo. 

The Dzambo Agusevi Orchestra, With Special Guests, Mamak Khadem and Olcay Bayir

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28.02.17

The Forbe, Camden

 

Having never before been to the Forbe in Camden, I admired the interior; classy wooden walls, high ceilings, intriguing angles and a wall of plants I particularly liked. The stage was set for the opening act; Olcay Bayir and her touring band. Coming from Turkey with Kurdish origins, Olcay mixes the classical Anatolian musical traditions with her western musical training. Coming to the stage it must be noted how wonderfully gracious Olcay Bayir looked, wearing a classy black dress embellished with beautiful jewellery, the audience quickly hushed. 

Olcay started her performance by singing an original composition in a wonderful soprano voice, that managed to stretch from the lowest octaves climbing steadily higher and higher until I’m sure she managed to squeeze five different octaves into one song. The drums and the five stringed bass sounded more western influenced driving each song with an almost rock’n’roll sound. This contrasted well with the traditional techniques used playing the acoustic guitar, and the pairing of the Kaval, a traditional flute instrument from Turkey, with the violin, harmonising and together ornamenting around the operatic voice of Olcay. 

Olcay Bayir treated us to one or two originals off her new upcoming album. Olcay’s stunning voice echoed through the unusual space connecting to every audience member. The use of the Kaval working with the violin really lifted the Macedonian sounds from her compositions creating a fusion of music that is not only easy to listen too, but also divine with rich textures. Olcay Bayir announced that for her second upcoming album she has launched a crowd funder to help towards the cost, in return she’s offering rewards, plus pre-orders of the album. After 45 minutes of playing Olcay left the stage to be set up for the nine piece all brass balkan orchestra. 

What an entrance they made, coming out section by section layering and building up a real buzz around their first song. After blasting us with some heavy brass talent, without introduction Mamak Khadem joined the boys on stage and together they finished their opening sequence. 

The stunning spiritual voice of Mamak Khadem comes from a fusion of traditional styles embracing cultures from all throughout the middle east. Primarily an Iranian singer, her roots in ancient poetry and traditional Persian music have helped Mamek find common threads throughout the globe, creating continuously innovative music. During their performance together Mamak Khadem and the Dzambo Augusevi Orchestra brought influences from primarily Iran and Macedonia, but also Serbia.  Together they played through a number of Mamaks songs including a particular favourite of mine from the evening; ‘Those Eyes’ of which Mamak had composed specifically for the Orchestra. 

The evening was filled with infectious grooves. The playful, upbeat manner in which the Dzambo Agesevi Orchestra perform showcases their rare connection. Within the nine members we have an Uncle named Koko, his brother, and that brothers son; Dzambo. 

Dzambo himself joined his uncle in the orchestra as third trumpet at the mere age of 11, and over the next few years became one of the worlds most renowned players shocking and awe inspiring around the globe. “Jumbo 11” is an album by Dzambo, made at the age of 11, after being invited by legendary saxophone player Ferus Mustafov to record. From there Dzambo won every trumpet playing award there was, including in ‘Pehcevo Competition’ ranking as every position possible. From 2006 to2011 he was unbeatably the fastest trumpet player in the world. He also achieved ‘every trumpet players dream’ of winning the ‘Guca Festival’ for himself and the Orchestra, who were eventually asked to stop contending in order to give others a chance. Uncle Koko is also a legend in his own right. Having played abroad in many projects his virtuosity is recognised everywhere. 

The evening seemed to fly as each song seamlessly grooved into the next. Mama Khadem demanded a complete deserved respect as she powerfully sung with the nine piece brass band. With varying trumpets and horns and a percussion section that consisted of a Rowland Synth pad and a large Tapan drum, not once did Mamak Khadem’s voice fade into the noise. Somehow, the the big brass beats from the Dzambo Agusevi Orchestra worked perfectly in sync Mamak who clearly had a close and warm friendship with the boys. Together they performed one of Mamaks more diverse songs from her first album - ‘Jostojoo, Forever Seeking’ of which Songlines magazine highly acclaimed. The song itself ‘Bigharâr (Restless Yearning)’ asked both the Uncle Koko and Nephew Dzambo to sing with Mamak, consequently the energy of the evening really hit a high with everyone in the audience dancing and applauding. 

Mamak spoke a few times between the songs explaining how she had told the band to learn English, but she will be doing most the speaking as they “didn’t do very well” (queue waves of chuckles from the orchestra). Throughout the evening she told us stories of her life and travels, speaking of her journeys through cultures making all kinds of friends and a families, and told us how the orchestra had become her “favourite family”. The love and appreciation the members had for one another was clear throughout. After every song applauding each other, embracing smiling and laughing. 

After an epic finally Mama concluded to the audience that “Music has no boundaries and it is the language of love”. She then left the stage leaving the nine behind to step up the balkan beats for the last segment of the evening. 

Here the audience really came alive, seemingly suddenly half Macedonian/Turkish the band launched into Balkan styled patriotic sing along songs. The talent of each members of the band really shone through as they played fast, complicated, elegant pieces and did so, with such an air of ease. Needless to say Dzambo’s trumpet playing shone through as an exceptional talent, frequently shocking and stunning the audience. The horn section themselves were so smooth with the groove I felt if I took my eyes of the band, I could convince myself I could hear a western bass guitar on the stage.

With a huge amount of audience singing, the encores seemed they would never end. I spoke to a lady in the audience who had grown up in Macedonia and she said; 

 “This music is so nostalgic, it makes me feel like I am home. But not just for me, for Perisan people too, and Iranian, so many people feel at home to this music.” 

Although I had grown up in the South of England, I could feel the nostalgia filling the room with admiration for the extremely talented orchestra. 

After the third encore, the band finished with ‘Crazy Dance’ an upbeat original that left both the audience and, it seemed, the band reluctant to leave.

I had really enjoyed the evening, the electric energy emanating from the stage stayed with me till I was home, trying to sleep. 

Olcay Bayir will be releasing new music soon, you can find more about her crowdfunding project on her Facebook page. Make Khadims albums are available on all platforms, including her brand new album ‘The Road’. The Dzambo Agusevi Orchestra are continuing to travel and play their music globally. 

 

A Celebration of Fela Kuti with Bukky Leo & Black Egypt

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27.02.17 

Jazz Cafe, London 

 

When buying my ticket previous to this event, the Jazz Cafe website stated: ‘It is very difficult to put into words the significance and stature of an individual like Fela Kuti’, I was dubious as to, if at all,  how well it could be done. Bukky Leo however promised to bring this monumental music to life with the help of the all-star ‘Black Egypt’. 

     Having been originally picked up playing saxophone on the streets of Lagos, by drummer legend Tony Allen. Bukky Leo became renowned in the acid jazz scene, playing globally, Lagos to London becoming undoubtedly one of the most important afrobeat musicians alive. Bukky Leo, is a rare musician that has had the honour of playing in ‘Africa 70’ with afrobeat innovator Feta Kuti himself.

    Upon arrival, the Jazz Cafe had set an afro-aesthetic mood, with soft dim lights of yellows and reds. The Dj from ‘Open The Gate’s' Fenomeno started the evening with some easy swaying roots reggae, gradually adding more afro-beats/jazz tunes as the venue packed out. The varying demographic in the audience all looked intent and ready for the night ahead, most of us having missed out on the original date two weeks previous, of which quickly sold out, prompting the addition of a new date.

    With nearly each member of the audience in motion, the band took to the stage, and jumped head first into their set, stopping only after the second song to introduce the stage. Each member receiving a warm welcome, some familiar faces also, such as Kishon Khan on keys, renowned British jazz pianist, composer, arranger and producer. Kishon Khan the previous week had given a seminar in ‘The School of Oriental and African studies’, SOAS, on the rhythmic and melodic foundations of Cuban music, whilst also promoting his position in the Black Egypts. Mark Crown on trumpet has also been seen playing with a variety of pop and reggae artists, most recently touring with rudimental. 

    The band played full length songs in tribute to Fela Kuti among some originals from Bukky and the Black Egypts. The energy emanating from the performance clearly engulfed the entire room that seemed almost hypnotised into a dance trance by the music on stage. A personal highlight was Bukky Leo’s rendition of ‘Shuffering and Shmiling’ by Fela. Playing the piece for over nine minutes for me it became nostalgic of every Fela album I’v spent hours listening too. Bukky Leo and the Black Egypts harnessed the magic and talent created by Flea Kuti and managed to bring that magic to the people in the Jazz Cafe that Sunday night. 

    Bukky and the Black Egypts played numerous Fela pieces and embellished the whole set with similarly complex and lengthy solos, of which truly gave the brass section of the band their time to shine. With Trevor Edwards on trombone, Mark Crown on the trumpet and of corse Bukky Leo on saxophone, the audience was truly felt elevated to original days of Fela and afrobeat, therefore making the celebration of Kuti a tremendous success. The solos from each member brought the jazz, with the on going groove being carried throughout by Richard Tunde Baker on percussion, Saleem Rahmaan on drums, Phill Dawson on Electric Guitar, and Yeukai CheMin and others on the distinctive chanting backing vocals so easily recognisable with afrobeat and Fela Kuti. 

     The endless toe tapping groove came to an end, the band rapped up and finished their set. The enormity of the songs they played that evening echoed around the Jazz Cafe as people applauded until every member had left the stage. Bukky Leo being the first musician I had personally seen that had played in the past with Fela I left the venue feeling honoured and elated.

     The most recent collaboration of Bukky Leo and the Black Egypts is their album released in 2012 entitled ‘Anarchy’, one can also refer to the multitudes of work that Fela Kuti left in the world for more afrobeat. Furthermore don’t hesitate to look up the catalogues of each player within the band, as together they cover a multitude of amazing work and fabulous music.