Farai and the Forest Dawn and the Kihaya Blues

Rich Mix (Brick Lane) 



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. 


SOFAR SOUNDS Presents: Let Drum Beat, Lectures, Carmen Souza Trio


JuJus’s Bar and Stage (Brick Lane)


OnDJ Ritu’s ‘A World In London’ at Resonance Radio on the 15.3.17 we had special guests; the fantastic all female ‘Let Drum Beat’. It was on this radio show that they told us of their top-secret gig coming up in London that was being presented by Sofar Sounds. Eager indeed to hear these women play again, I applied via the Sofar Sounds website for the date that they had confirmed they would be playing. I was intrigued as to the Sofar Sounds process; I was told it was top secret; the venue and the acts, and that I would receive and email the day before the date with the details of the following event. So I signed up on their website, and waited. 

    Surely enough on Sunday night, I received an email, albeit a tad more informative; I still had no idea of the acts I would be seeing along side Let Drum Beat, but I did however know that the event was being held in JuJus’s Bar and Stage. JuJu’s Bar and Stage is a little hidden, noticeable by only a sandwich board, consequently my ‘Google Maps’ that often enjoys sending me on incorrect wild chicken chases, I ended up at the wrong end of Brick Lane. Not all was lost however, asthis detour allowed me a world famous ‘Salted Beef Bagel’ (mustard free for me) from ‘Beigel Bake’ (159 Brick Lane). A must for any visitors, and a delicious treat for any home town Londoners. 

   Bagel baked, and lips licked, I eventually found JuJu’s, had my name found on the intimate list of guests, and in I went. Juju’s is a fantastic space, with a spacious ‘stage’ elevated from the floor to the right, with room to dance, with a bar that stretches far left with high ceilings and an open feel, JuJu’s seemed perfect to hold a Sofar Sounds project. 


Blankets, Camera, Action! 


The evening was hosted by a Sofar sounds representative who took the moment to explain a little how the evenings worked and how they came out. Supposedly the project has been running for over eight years now, and has been awarded funding from Richard Branson. Since this investment, they have grown substantially, now being active in over 300 cities world wide including LA and Paris. The idea is simple, if you have a venue, be it your living room or your bar, you can apply to volunteer your space for an evening of music. From there Sofar Sounds will find suitable acts, lights and cameras, blankets and all manner of things to make the evening comfortable. They also encourage you to bring your own alcohol and food. Sofar Sounds films the evening that is performed acoustically, with simply just a few recording mics, then makes a rather fancy looking video that can be used by everyone involved. 

    This is an idea I can totally get on board with. The host said “Are you frustrated with going to concerts and you can’t see because people are on their phones” - this I could relate to easily, having recently been frustrated by a group of elderly people at a balkan concert who filmed the entire event ‘live to Facebook’. I also find myself frequently wondering if I am stood behind quite possibly the tallest man alive, and have to make do with seeing half the performances faces, as the gentleman in front allows an ‘every other beat’ window of vision with his side-to-side swaying. These are the kinds of things that can become grating at concerts.

   Sofar Sounds has really capitalised on these annoyances, and created a live space for music lovers, where they can come together with a shared respect for the music, and have a relaxed chilled out evening, enjoying, seeing and hearing all the music. Keeping the capacity to 50 people max, is probably a sensible number to keep under control. Finally the matter of the anonymous performers I think is actually a touch of genius. It’s ideas such as this, that I believe are imperative to the survival of live music events such as these. 

Anyway, on to the music!

  So the first band to be introduced were our friends ‘Let Drum Beat’. The performance area had their wonderful exotic collection of percussion instruments from Brazil, Benin and I’m sure miscellaneous other collections. Un-like when these wonderful women played on ‘A World In London’, they had no bass player, but instead a double bass player. They joined their instruments on stage, each women looking exotically beautiful and worldly. They then proceeded to treat us to some perfectly gorgeous Aro-Brazillan tracks the first of which started soft and gentle, and gradually built up to a climactic end. It seemed as though, as the track grew thicker, the audiences smiles grew broader. Like the arrival of spring coming through the darkness. It really felt as if Let Drum Beat were a breath of fresh air. Their second song compromised of simply an acoustic guitar and the Berimbau, a west African mouth bow, but a more modern Brazilian adaption. This song had such as driving force behind it, and an almost dangerous sounding thrive. It somewhat reminded me of the soundtrack to the world wide ‘Breaking Bad’ TV series. The third song really heard the cello fusing with the Brazilian, telling us that this song was inspire by North East Brazil. They spoke of how the ‘Tukra’ language had inspired them, and how they have been fusing the more melodic instruments to their percussion heavy repertoire. They said that;

 “Through music, we can keep everything alive”. 

The band are recording and EP and have a few gigs coming up that can be found on all standard platforms. 


As they left the performance area, we were told there’d be a 10/15 minute break before the next act. I was unaware of the structure of the evening initially, however having thought about it, having three half hour sets, with small breaks seems like a good balance, and a nice amount of music for one evening. Allowing the audience to stretch, chat, and get back to enjoying the music. 

    The next band that performed were introduced as ‘Lectures’. They consisted of a bass, acoustic guitar and vocals, a Prophet ’08 keys and synth and a small acoustic drums set up. Their music can be described as ambient, soft, indie, perhaps a little rock too. I rather liked the unique voice of the singer, and the calm energy radiating from their performance. Their overall sound reminded me of a mash up between Alt J and Jake Bugg, however in saying that, they certainly sounded original to their own sound, and had more soulful melodic lines. Their EP ‘Entree Point’ came out the week previous to this concert, and they played u the title track. From this title track I shall certainly be giving the whole Ep a listen. The rest of their tracks came with an effortless soulful groove. I particularly liked the old school keys to synth combination creating an ambient structure for their songs. For their song; ‘Peaches’ started with a driving drum gently thumping throughout, of which I like as a rhythm. However this is where my first criticism comes in, it seemed that the acoustic environment should perhaps have allowed for simply drums and vocals, as the combination of the two drowned one another out, making it very hard to hear and follow the lyrics. Although this was a shame, their last song pulled through and finished the set on an up. As with most their songs, the endings are somewhat abrupt and out the blue, a trait that I found I had warmed too in their musicality, almost taken a back, the audience realises the songs over, then reply with a warm applause. 


Next up was the Carmen Souza Trio. Quite the introduction they received, having released five albums, and soon to be releasing their sixth, this afro-jazz and soul band were perhaps the most experienced of the three acts to the performing that evening. Immediately I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the singers guitar and specialised guitar amp. I couldn’t quite get the make of the two, however the guitar was quite the spectacle of beauty. Accompanying this stunning set up was a bass guitarist and a small acoustic jazz drum set up. The band went forth and played a stunning set of soulful, jazzy tunes, sung I believe in French. The singer had the most stunning high end trills in her voice, frequently skipping octaves all together. There was an overall impression of professionality. They traveled through a variety of genre sounds whilst keeping it rapped up in this smooth delivery. I thought I heard some Seben guitar, a little Brazilian rhythms. Their songs were entitled things such as ‘Bird’, and ‘Hand of God’. The drummer took a chance to shine with a small drumming solo, that had each member of the audience air tapping along on their legs, the bass was strong and driving throughout, accompanied by an awesome, what we call in the industry - Bass Face. The band asked for some audience participation. Perhaps it is because of the smaller more particular audience, however the “sing along with me Mozambe!” back and forth chanting sounded remarkably professional and actually rather poetic. So ten out of ten to the beautifully sounding audience, that really made their set special, all inclusive, and really rather lovely. 


As I left that evening at a gorgeously reasonable 10pm. I felt fulfilled having seen three professional bands, with a quick and efficient turn around, a comfortable and accessible view and an evening of lovely entertainment. I am rather impressed with the Sofar Sounds set-up, and hope that it will continue, and also inspire like minded people to create more of these environments for live music. 


Congo Dia NTotila



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.