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.