concert

Tony Allen

Tony Allen  @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

09.02.18

Village Underground (East) 

Tony Allen and Band   @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Matt Prev   

Tony Allen and Band 

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Matt Prev

 

Getting off the bus in East London proved to be a freezing cold endeavour. I felt grateful my evening was consisting of standing inside a potentially very hot protected building. I made my way to the Village Underground. 

What is Afrobeat? 

It’s hard to think of genres of music originated from Africa that are well known to the average Westerner much outside of the ‘world music’ boundaries. One stands rather clear however, having been popularised and developed in the late 1970’s, ‘afrobeat’ managed to break through borders and become a well known genre globally outside of it’s insemination in Africa. 

Fela Kuti pioneered afrobeat, having studied music in England and in Africa, he wanted to distinguish the music making from Nigeria where he was from, the beautiful funky soul full music they were making, and point out it’s differences to what was happening in the West at the time, such as the soul music of James Brown.

Mixing jazz and funk with elements of Western African musical styles such as jùjú and highlife, afrobeat really focuses on complex jazz rhythms, over African percussions and famously stunningly long musical interludes showcasing stunning improvisational solo’s from an array of instruments. Noticeable, one would think somewhat immediately off the saxophone as that was Fela Kuti’s primary instrument, as well as being a multi-instrumentalist. 

Tony Allen

Reasons why it is ok to say that Tony Allen is a living legend, a pioneer of music, and a fundamental character in the musical make-up of North West Africa: Tony Allen played on the first 35 studio albums that Fela Kuti and the subsequent ‘Africa 70’ albums produced, therefore Tony Allen played a fundamental and imperative role in shaping the genre of afrobeat. Known globally as if not THE best (Damon Albarn and Brian Eno have said many times he is) drummer on Earth, Tony Allen is said to be able to play different time signatures on each limb. Tony Allen played such complex cross-rythms on Fela Kuti’s recordings that when it came to gigging, no other drummer could replace Tony. They could simple only replicate the music if Tony Allen himself was there. 

Finally it isn’t that Tony Allen played drums FOR Fela Kuti who in turn innovated the genre of afrobeat. The innovation also imperatively lies with Tony Allens rhythms: the propulsive polyrhythms new beats, inspired by the fusion of African musicality, such as the Yoruba religious musical conventions that have been borrowed and adapted, morphed even by Tony. Allen then shaped these new musicalities, moulding a new groove to match what Fela Kuti was creating with his band the Africa 70’, AKA the foundations of a new genre: afrobeat. Therefore Tony Allen surely is one of the only percussionists alive to lay claim to the innovation of an entire rhythm, beat and way of playing the drums that lent itself to the invention of afrobeat as a global, as well as locally, loved genre. 

Furthermore, not only has Tony Allen played on over 35 studio albums with Fela Kuti, he has created 17 personal solo studio albums, a further seven collaborative albums, and featured on endless albums as guest drummer. All together, Tony Allen has featured in one way or another on over seventy five studio albums, now seventy eight years old, Tony has an album for nearly every year of his life. His later material revisiting his earlier jazz routes. ‘The Source’ being his latest release (2017) is  a debut full-length album for Blue Note Records. Claiming that freedom is in full flow, Tony Allen thinks that this new album is his best work as a drummer, free of all limitations, it truly explores the freedom of what it means to be Tony Allen behind a drum kit. 

The Village Underground

The venue as always is a pleasure to go to, set in an old underground station, the bar tucks neatly under an archway, with the cloak room and toilets there immediately as you enter. Then to your left is the large hall with double high arched ceilings, the walls red brick, and the stage at the far end of the arch. The stage was set with a cross of large lights that looked like old airplane fans. In the middle of the stage there stood loud and proud the drum kit of Tony Allen, all spot lights central around this. 

I got myself a drink from the somewhat reasonably priced bar, and waited the evening ahead. The DJ was playing a mix of African high life and disco, all very funky movable songs. The audience filled the floor with casual dancing. 

Around 10pm, the lights went down and the show started. Joining Tony Allen on the stage was a sax player, trumpet, piano (set up with a rowland keys and a full grande piano, an electric guitarists and a stand up bass. Lastly Tony Allen himself comes out looking fresh faced, and energetically ready. He took up spot on the drums and we were away. 

Tony Allen and Band   @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen and Band 

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

The rest of the evening consisted of a jazz enthralled journey. Each piece jamming out for long periods of time, each embezzled with jazz solos on the sax and solos on the trumpet, and sometimes solo’s from both in sync. Furthermore, the pianist was a stunner to watch, playing the grande piano with his left hand, keeping the cyclical melodic lines going, whilst simultaneously his right hand solo’s on the keyboard. The stand up bass had solos that were beautiful, funky and encapsulating, as well as the guitarist. Each musician played perfectly, with crips, clear notes, stabbing stops and harmonious harmonies. The music was really of the highest quality. 

The framing for Tony Allens set was perfect, the lighting of the stage set the scene that something special was taking place, with Tony Allen rightfully placed as the central piece in the middle fo the stage, most spot lights highlighting his drumming throughout. Watching Tony Allen drum so freely, so easily and with such complexity was a real treat to any jazz fan. 

The audience swayed along to the jazz the whole evening long. Unable to control themselves when a suggested end fo the show came, the audience demands more more more tunes, and Tony Allen and band accept the offer. Tony Allen, in his 70’s is know for his ferocious playing of the drums, a tiring discipline, only Tony Allen who played with Fela, famous for playing all night long, or for at least 6 hours at a time, can play for hours and hours impeccably. He says he finds it hard to Finnish after only two hours. 

However in the two hours of Tony Allen played drums for myself and a room full of adoring fans in the Village Underground Allen managed to display, and prove why his legacy stands so highly regarded in the world of music. 

For many I think the evening seemed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I certainly felt honoured to have witnessed Tony Allen drumming, the greatest drummer alive, some might say. 

 

Tony Allen  @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

TootArd

Photo by Sophie Darling   TootArd @ Rich Mix 01.02.17

Photo by Sophie Darling 

TootArd @ Rich Mix 01.02.17

01.02.18 

Rich Mix (Brick Lane) 

It is always a pleasure to go to the warm, welcoming Rich Mix centre for a concert, and tonight was no different. 

The lights were set in a groovy array of greens and reds and blues, I was aware the band were joining the stage at 9pm prompt following a set from the DJ spinning world vinyls. 

Although a little sparse at first, the audience soon filled out and when nine o’clock came around the room was packed, immensely heating up. 

The five piece came out opening their set with a killer track from their debut album ‘Nuri Andaburi’, of which came out in 2011; Jeena. The catchy chorus has such a smooth flow, the bass is groovy, and it introduces the middle eastern themes in a light way. Jeena is also one of the  bands reggae tracks, of which TootArds have become some what renowned as the ‘reggae band of Syria’. The band skanked in unison as the audience indulged.

drummertootard

From the Golan Heights, this five piece: two electric guitars, bass, saxophone and drums with main vocals, and 3 harmonies, travelled to England. It has taken years to have the band  come to England to play for us due to various visa issues, and receiving different passports when during their personal displacement experiences. 

The audience seemed ecstatic , and when they said “does anyone here speak Arabic’, the room exploded, it seemed clear that TootArd have gained quite a respectable following in England. I found myself wishing I could understand Arabic as the songs had such a infectious groove, I found myself subliminally, and certainly incorrectly,  singing along. 

There was an insane groove funking from the bass at all times, almost western funk disco-esc bass lines. If one were to listen soul to the bass lines, for sure that person would be pulling a bass face before they knew it. 

What’s I particularly found interesting however, is how they play over the bass. So listening to the albums, you’d assume middle eastern instruments, a shawm or a saz perhaps, but what is so unique about TootArds, is that they create the middle eastern aesthetic, not with the usual instruments that produce the sound, but however by pairing an electric guitar with a saxophone that simultaneously play the middle eastern riffs. Together the two separate, totally non-middle eastern sounding instruments amazingly create a rusting sound that could fool anyone into thinking it was a Turkish saz, or a Shawn from the silk road. The electric guitar sounds as though it may be using some kind of tremolo effect and in perfect sync, they play the typically middle eastern-esc riffs that matching the sounds of the saxophone and guitar together make perfect maqqam quarter notes intonation. 

I had never seen this sound so brilliantly replicated and found it interesting, innovative and inspiring. 

I really came away from the TootArd evening a really huge fan. I enjoyed every song they played, and found their energy to be uplifting, happy and peaceful. There were moments of audience participation, singing along and dancing all night. The evening was a pleasure, and the band impeccable. 

TootArd at Rich Mix 01.02.18

TootArd at Rich Mix 01.02.18

Baba Zula

29.01.17 

Nells Jazz & Blues (South Kensington) 

I returned to Nells Jazz & Blues for the second time in a weekend. The first to see North West African traditional music, and this time, to see eclectic Turkish folk band Baba Zula. 

Periklie Tsoukalas of Baba Zula   Nells Jazz a Blues   29.01.18   Photo Sophie Darling 

Periklie Tsoukalas of Baba Zula 

Nells Jazz a Blues

29.01.18 

Photo Sophie Darling 

Baba Zula formed as a band in Istanbul in 1996. They have since become the polar figures, pioneers and flag masters for Turkish psychedelic rock’n’roll. The eclectic mix of sounds and influences emanating from their high energy performances beams traditional oriental instruments:  sounds such Özgür Çakırlar beating the darbuka drums providing thriving rhythms throughout. The saz, mastered by Murat Ertel, reminds us of the Arab influences, and screams maqqam, however untraditionally electrified. The result; dirty, at times distorted rock’n’roll saz solos over chorus-esc male singing, often in small phrases, or one word exclamations. Traditional percussion provides the much needed foot stopping dance tones, whilst contemporary electronic instruments such as sample pads, percussion machines, theremins, oscillators, effects pedals and an array of experimentation adds the modern dance, dub elements. All in all, the performances Baba Zula produce comes served as a mixed disciplinary experience, often travelling through long psychedelic instrumentals, thrashing into Hendrix inspired lute solos channeled through a wah wah pedal. The energy bursts out of every segment of the songs, often building up to wonderfully long dancing, jumping conclusions. 

Periklie Tsoukalas is representing a similar look to the last time I saw the boys playing; steampunk circle glasses matched with multicoloured patched waistcoat and matching shoes, with orange trousers and a larger than life afro that bobbed to every beat. Periklies position within the band is playing the electric oud and vocals. The effects pedal at his feet becomes the most important part of the the musical make-up of Baba Zula. One minute the oud will be emanating renaissance-esc melodic phrases, then with a tap of the foot, the bass strings are creating heavy dubbed bass lines that dominate the energy of the song. With another tap, the oud becomes Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Strat’ with a 70’s wah wah bending the notes, shaping the vibe into a groovy funk dance. 

With Baba Zula you journey through genres, through sounds and through themes. 

Speaking of themes, the ideologies of the band members are clear throughout. With every moment of conversation between the band and the audience, they pursued the opportunity to promote a global peaceful vision. One of no borders, no discrimination and of a ‘one people’. Speaking to the audience they ask…

“Do you feel you are from a race? from a nation? Do you think you could be wrong? We can all be wrong? We are all mixed you see… 

You don’t know your great great great grandfather do you? Nooo. So you could be wrong! You do not know!

We are all mixed, we are all living, in this world, in this now. 

We can have and learn enjoyment”

…From here they jumped into the next grooving song, punching the peaceful energy around the room. Furthermore after every song, and in every moment of pause, the members of the band adorned the universal peace signs with their hands to the audience. 

Periklie frequently triggered a pop culture reference in my head… I felt as though I were being taken back to school…. ‘The School of Rock’ to be precise, and Jack Black was telling me to “raise my goblet of rock” before “melting” my face off in this light hearted, totally rock’n’roll character, as he points around the audience before shredding on the oud. 

Techno percussionist Levent Akman is known for vibing on the spoons, the maracas, all manner of mini percussions, symbols, pads, effects, whilst experimenting with electronic devices, that at times can become so overpowering the distortion can be felt from within. 

A slight disappointment came in that female vocalist Melike Şahin didn’t join the band for this performance, there was also no explanation as to why. 

The band came on stage around 8, and started the set jumping immediately in the deep end, opening with perhaps one of their biggest hits ‘Abdülcanbaz’, played for over 10 minutes, the eventual crescendo of the song opens the set and immediately creates the high energy reaction from the already dancing audience. Screaming in support could be heard the entire evening. 

The dancing did not stop for one moment throughout the evening as Baba Zula played hit after hit demanding audience participation, which they received with an raucous passion. At one moment, the entire venue could be heard chanting “PIRASA” meaning ‘leek’ in Turkish, or as they pointed out, a word that will be accepted all across the Balkans and in Greece also. 

Together the audience sung, clapped and danced the night away with Baba. 

At a number of points, the audience was very literally dancing WITH Baba Zula as they spent a good couple of songs within the audience, either dancing with us, singing with us, asking us all to join them on them crouching low on the floor quietly, whilst Periklie sings acoustic traditional Arabic melismatic vocals that echoed around the small venue, all the while building up the energy by punctuating his vocals with the single strum of an extremely high powered, slightly distorted oud. 

Murat Ertel also acted rock’n roll in many ways, from playing his electric sax solos  behind his head in  typical ‘Vaughan’ style, to traveling across the audience via chair tops, across the room to the bar, where he climbed, saz in hand, to solo on the bar top all while commuting from stage to bar whilst playing epic saz licks.

The evening at Nells was quite juxtaposed to the Saturday evening I had spent in the venue. The first evening I spent was very serious, almost silent and specialist. However this evening was quite the opposite, with upbeat dancing from moment one, the demographic seemed far more ‘excited’ than Saturdays crowd, with a high level of chatting in between songs, it was perhaps a little too loud in laughter for my liking. However, the same set up of the stage at Saturday: minimal lights and back drop ensuring upmost attention to the music and the artist. The 200 capacity at Nells really makes for an intimate show, one where you really feel as though you have seen, even met the artists. 

I thouroughly enjoyed my evening with Baba Zula, and would recommend their live performance to anyone into dancing, Balkans, Turkish, Psychedelia, Rock’n’roll, shredding solos and all manner of hooligan-ary and fun, and of corse, impeccable musicianship. 

 

Me and Murat Ertel  Baba Zula @ Nells Jazz & Blues   29.01.18

Me and Murat Ertel

Baba Zula @ Nells Jazz & Blues 

29.01.18

 

 

 

 

Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues   15.01.18  Photo: Sophie Darling 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues

15.01.18

Photo: Sophie Darling 

15.01.18 

Nells jazz & Blues (South Kensington)  

When I was faced with the opportunity to go to Vieux Farka Touré’s show in the South of London I was ecstatic. For me, the musical legacy of Vieux’s pioneering father; Ali Farka Touré would have been enough in itself, however the beautiful albums that have preceded Vieux Farka Tourés musical career make it clear that Vieux is expressing an innovative and personal style, differing from his fathers, but still remaining within the legacy.

A quick note on the legacy of Ali Farka Touré (1939-2006). Touré is one of Africa’s most internationally renowned artists. Ali Farka Touré took the electric guitar, so far belonging to the American blues, and innovated an eclectic genre combining West African musical traditions with the blues. All the while arguing that the blues is historically derived from African musical traditions anyway. In this sense, by playing the African blues and being one of the first Malian musicians to take his music out of Mali and take it global, out of Africa,  Ali Farka Touré managed to attain some African ownership over blues music, that had previously been incorrectly and wholly associated globally within a purely American context. This thus changed the face and historical make-up of North West African music from an outsiders perspective, and from an insiders, created a new platform of music making. 

Ali Farka Touré was born into a family of warriors, not musicians. In Mali and much of North/West African traditions, musicians are born into their musical families, and thus learn hereditarily, these families and musicians are called ‘griots’ or ‘jeli’ and they become the leading authoritative on all things to do with their instruments, be it a Kora or a Balafon, or percussion such as a calabash. Neither Ali nor Vieux were born into this griot family, and so it was quite strange at first to have an non-jeli learn the musical ways. However, after some convincing Ali Farka Touré allowed Vieux to learn to be a musician after family friend Toumani Diabaté convinced Ali. Diabaté being a famous Malian griot family learned in the Kora. 

Since Vieux began a debut album, of which his father Ali features as well as Toumani Diabaté. Vieux’s father sadly died in 2006 before the completion of the album, however was noted to have been proud, and listened to the self titled album ‘Vieux Farka Touré’ whilst waiting peacefully to pass. Vieux also decided to continue his fathers charitable legacy by donating 10% of all proceeds from his debut to the Modiba’s “Fight Malaria” campaign in Niafunké. 

Vieux has since has a lustrous career touring and playing all manor of festivals and releasing over 5 studio albums, and plenty of live renditions as well as opening the FIFA World Cup in South African in 2010 as well as many other honourable appearances and collaborations.

It is on this Saturday night in lovely South London however, that in an intimate 200 capacity venue, Vieux Farka Touré has travelled from Mali to play his first ever solo show. Having never played without fellow musicians, Vieux reflected on stage:

“I remember when I was in school, very young, and my father comes to get me out of school and says ‘you are coming with me, do you want to come with me to play around the world” to which I replied… of course” Vieux spoke with a clear conviction, drawing the entire audience into his stories and pauses at comically pleasing moments, creating a reaction of laughs. He smiles cheekily and continues, enjoying the rapport. 

“When we got to the stage, we look out at 500 people, and he says ‘Ok, you go on stage now. Play three songs and you open for me’”

Vieux jokes about how nervous he was, and how his three songs must have lasted 4 minutes in total.. 

“My point is, is that that was my first time I played in front of people, and here I am about to play for the first time by self, here in London, or ever. Thank you for being a part of this”. 

From this introduction, the evening was set to be something special. Another way in which the energy of the evening was mapped out by our host, is in his unusual request the audience sit on the floor. 

Nells Jazz & Blues is a intimate venue, with a small but special 200 capacity, a slight raised level from the entrance and with the bar and some seating tables on the outskirts and with a small standing pit hugging around the stage. Vieux’s request we sit on the floor came as the audience, whilst waiting, were perched on the floor. Upon standing for Vieux’s appearance on stage, he quickly suggested we all sat again so that the entire audience would have a chance at a descent view and in order for “everyone to feel like we are at home together”. This was met with rounds of applause and support, and thus, the entire audience found a seat on the floor, ensuring a sacred view for all. 

The stage at Nells is set for serious music. With home made signs everywhere saying “shhhhhhh when the music is playing” and with no fancy back drops, no crazy light show, very little, if not anything to distract from the artist and their music. This set up must be regular for the venue as it is held in very high respect, thus is known for attracting a serious music lovers demographic. Not a venue to go and listen to background music, nor a venue to go and chat throughout. This in mind, as Vieux started to play, the audience obeyed and sat in near silence whilst the distinct saharan blues guitar sounds resonated throughout the small intimate room.  

Vieux and his guitar. 

From 8:30pm- 10:30pm we were treated to beautiful original compositions, songs for his wife, songs of travelling, but also dedications and odes to his father Ali Farka Touré. Vieux played the his electric acoustic guitar in the ways that are distinctive to the legacy of him and his father. The sounds of playing kora pieces on a 6 string guitar, such as playing the bass consistently throughout with the thumb on the bass strings, and thus adding the cyclical melodic variants on the higher three strings. Playing in slight variations of the pentatonic scale lends the blues to the tonality. 

He told us that all of his family where here at the gig to hear him play his first solo gig, perhaps they could be noticed as one of those unable to stop dancing and smiling for one single beat throughout the show. 

What struck me was the crips sound of Vieux’s guitar. With such clear character, almost metallic, perhaps likening to the West African tradition of adding a ‘buzz’ aesthetic to their instruments, the effect definitely lends favour to the long instrumental pulsating guitar lines. All while singing in his deep, almost husky voice with lyrics in his native tongue.

Whilst Vieux’s easy flowing chat and laughters made for an easy and pleasant ride between songs, he also light heartedly brought up the issue of visas, and how increasingly difficult it is for Malian (and world wide) musicians to attain these days, thus threatening performances.

“In the old days, my father would say… Here you come with me, and he ring would up his friends say “me and my son need passports” and within ten minutes they come over with a passport and visas for me and my father *laughter*…. But now…It is so hard, this is a BIG ISSUE”. 

Vieux also shared some personal stories about how he started to become a musician. Telling of how originally his father didn’t like the idea due to the struggles he had faced, however later agreed and enrolled him in music school. It was here that originally Vieux started to learn the calabash before moving onto kora, then guitar. He told us how his grandfather had always encouraged him musically and had once brought him “a very big hat… and a very big calabash”. At this moment I look at the navy blue porkpie hat sat cool-y on the neck of his Fender electric guitar and I wonder if this hat was similar to the one his grandfather gave him. 

Vieux played and smiled and laughed with the audience for over two hours. Nothing but a man, his voice and the unbelievable guitar playing of the ‘Farka Tourés. As the last song started Vieux decided that everyone could stand up for the final tune in order to dance together, happily the audience obliged. 

I thoroughly loved the concert, for me it felt like a vey special evening. An opportunity to see live an original performance that might never be replicated, and musically and historically, such an important and imperative figure in the changing face of African music. Such innovative and noticeable guitar playing that his father pioneered, to see Vieux Farka Touré play his repertoire so soulfully was an honour. Furthermore the venue: Nells Jazz & Blues is a wonderful venue to host such superior and important music. 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues   15.01.18   Photo: Sophie Darling 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues 

15.01.18 

Photo: Sophie Darling 

Baloji with Support from Debruit

16.11.17

Islington Assembly Hall (Angel) 

As soon I fouddn out that Soundcrash were once again, bringing fresh exciting, relevant talent from across the seas to London for an evening of global beats and Congolese style partying. 

The support act, Debruit was spinning some seriously tropical tunes as I arrived. Although the venue was waiting for the audience to thicken a little, the energy was high, and everyone was inescapably dancing in small groups, laughing; it the feel you get leading up to the main event at a festival. Debruit played some incredibly awesome tracks, but more importantly, I noticed how complex his mixing techniques were. Not a case of simply matching BPM’s, Debruit was spinning in sound effects, dub drops whilst mixing the sounds of each tracks all the way through, creating a really immersive, unique performance. The evening was shaping up to be brilliant, I noticed how there was a lot of laughing and smiling everywhere. Unlike a lot of the concerts from African musicians, the concerts demographic was actually mostly young people, early 20’s. I assumed this was due to the performer being a hip-hop artist. 

Baloji’s welcoming into the musical spotlight, actually start many years ago in an outfit called Starflam, in which his MC name was MC Balo, of which you may have heard the track ‘La Sonora’, if you haven’t then let’s skip froward to 2016 with the release of ‘Spoiler’. Spoiler was picked up by BBC, and consequently opened much broader market up for Baloji. Since his 2006 solo comeback, Baloji has been touring the world, and on this occasion had brought his band to the Islington Assembly Hall. 

Around 10pm, Debruit cleared his decks and made way for the man himself. 

First the band took to the stage, reminding me of an old cuban session band, each player, grey haired and virtuoso looking, they sat in matching blue suits. With an burst if energy, Baloji bloomed onto the stage wearing an amazing suit, a lighter shade of blue to his band members. From here Baloji stunned the audience with his mix of Congolese and Belgium hip-hop, his poetry, and the sheer dance-factor to his tunes that ensured a non stop, feet moving extravaganza. Not one person remained still, and within the audience small areas started to form where people were taking their dancing to the next level. All of this felt incredibly inclusive. Rapping in French means that the majority of the audience were guessing  the aesthetics of the songs. 

What I heard whispering around the audience multiple times, were so many comments on Balojis presentation. He looked young, hip, inspired and absolutely dashing in his suit. He wore a black bowl hat too, and danced with extreme precision. Baloji provided an immense energy to every song for this reason the whole evening flew by with a warm excitement. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in the Netherlands this week, catch Baloji there at ‘Explore the North’ on the 25th of November.  Also be sure to check out his latest single released this year ‘L’Hiver Indien’, it’s a great example of the energy and soul that comes with Baloji. I’d also recommend giving the last album from his past band Starflam if you are into your hip-hop. ‘Servient’ released 2003. 

Tune in to 'A World in London' to hear an exclusive interview with Baloji on SOAS radio from a couple of years ago... 

https://soasradio.org/music/episodes/awil-107-special

 

Lastly, Soundcrash put on some amazing gigs the one I feel is most special that they have planned at the moment is the ‘Wormfood 10 years Special’ with live performances from ‘The Comet is Coming, Afriquoi (You can check out a review of them on my website), Nubiyan Twist, The Turbans and The Busy Twist ft K.OG. The line-up is simply unmissable. Check out tickets on the Soundcrash website (http://www.soundcrashmusic.com/). 

 

http://www.baloji.com/

 

Baloji

BaBa Zula

BabaZulaCover

27.04.17

Under the Bridge (Chelsea) 

Having never been to the venue ‘Under the Bridge’ before, I hadn’t realised that the location was placed directly underneath the Chelsea football club. Earlier in the day a friend had told me that the owner of the grounds, had a passion for music and have famously said “ I want to have the best sound-system in London underneath my club”. Despite being told this, I still took a double look when I realised the little blue dot on Google Maps was telling me I had reached my location; to look up and see a huge looming stadium shadowing over me. I enjoyed, for the first time, a look through history at previous players as we took the path around the stadium, past the in-house sports bar, and down following the flashing florescent sign that climbed up the wall. It’s immediate noticeable how glam and glorious this venue was. With she black shiny walls, and dim lights. Then in the main area there’s swanky booths and bar stools. The entire back drop to the stage meets with ceiling in rows of lights that create really immersive lights displays. Needless to say the entire place is decked out with high quality speakers everywhere, complete with two larger than life mixing desks. Decorating silver grating that separated booths and bars are multitudes of large framed photos each with live concert photos from all musicians imaginable. The atmosphere and decor made no secret of the glitzy money put into the place, but also showed a real love for music. 

The band came out and a whirlwind of wonderful craziness took over the next hour or so.

Travelling to Chelsea football club, to step into a venue with a demographic fitting for the location; it wasn’t what came to mind when imagining seeing a band who’s career is a whopping 20 years strong, and are pioneers in experimenting with instruments to span Turkish, psychedelic/rock, reggae/dub genres.  Despite the immediate dancing groves, the audience took a while to fill the standing areas. Baba Zula started with ‘Abdulcanbaz’ and jammed the song for over 10 minutes. Studying ethnomusicology it was with great pleasure that I watched as some truly magnificent instruments were played in such unique ways that it paid homage to the wonderful ‘Baba Zula’ sound.  

On the Baba Zula website, you can see their creative and quirky spin on music with their descriptions of the members and their tools; 

Levent Akman on spoons, percussions, machines, toys,

Murat Ertel on electric saz and other stringed instruments, vocals, oscillators, theremin,

As well as darbuka and percussion player Özgür Çakırlar, 

And Periklis Tsoukalas on electric ud and vocals and tMelike Şahin on vocals,

An electric ud makes for an absolutely transcendent sounds, especially hooked up to a pedal or two. A saz is an instrument traditional to Turkey, where the wonderful Baba Zula hail from. They told us actually of their travels, and not for the first time did we as an audience hear of their immense troubles traveling to England. Songhoy Blues, a sub-Saharan Malian band, had spoken of very similar troubles for their London based gig last month. They had had their instruments searched, been questioned, had belongings lost or held. Baba Zula said they had none of their own leads and pedals, nor their stage costumes. 

Not that any of this in the slightest showed effect on their performance. I was reminded a couple of times of how one can become completely lost in a rhythm, realising that for a few minutes, there were no other thoughts in my head except the rhythm and, amazingly, an electric ud soloing for 3/4 minutes, accompanied by nothing but a doumbek drum. Then hey burst back in, building tensions with the occasional vocals. Concluding in an exciting immersive explosion of groove. 

The end of the song felt like being splashed back into reality, becoming aware of your surroundings once more. I kept proclaiming my heightened love for them, absolutely intensified by a live performance. Whilst listening I was reminded of a bohemian gypsy music/Hendrix mash up. Referring to one another as ‘poets’ seemed fitting as they marched with their instruments militantly across the stage as percussion took the limelight. 

The evening was fun, groovy and absolute non-stopper. At one point the band took the somewhat intimate concert to the next level, and joined the audience in the standing area, they each came down, and continued to drum the repetitive beats, and solo saz. Together we all danced for a solid minute or two. As they re-joined the stage, the wonderfully exotic Melike Sahin joined, dressed in a stunning Turkish ‘Gatsby-esc’ dress dominates the stage and completes the powerful, colourful band.

Baba Zula blew me away with their infectious unique sound, and combine that with the genius lighting that leads from the stage floor , behind the artists, up and over the ceiling. The performance was stunningly psycadelic. One thing however, that must be said about the venue, is that it seems to have failed in completely shaking off the ‘sportsbar’ vibe, with an excellent chorus form the audience, somewhat echoes from the football field. However the real issue was with the staff, I stood at the bar whilst three elderly men were served wrongly before myself. Something that could have been an oversight, however felt more like as the only woman at the bar I was being severely ignored. Lastly, the gentleman in the audience seemed to struggle with the idea that I wasn’t readily available for their dancing pleasures. Nevertheless, after shaking off unwanted attention, and not receiving wanted attention at the bar, my evening was only slightly tainted. 

The evenings performance completely separated the world from that room. All my troubles were forgotten as I stood glued to the every beat. The audience going crazy, everyone jumping and jiving. 

I have come away from Baba Zula yearning to see them again, and desperate to buy their fabulous records. 

Kadialy Kouyate and Fred Thomas

Kadialy Cover.jpg

05.04.17 

SandsFilms Studios (Rotherhithe) 

The need to take the overground to any given location is always a welcomed treat compared to the monotonous repeated visions of the un-inspiring underground. I was actually previously oblivious to an area called ‘ Rotherhithe’ existing in London; therefore an air of mystery surrounded the non-too long overground journey. Leaving the tube station upon arrival at  Rotherhithe I was happy to see that the venue was a mere two minute walk away; and what a walk it was. In my home city we have an ‘Old Town’ where the pavements are cobbled, the buildings are ancient and the general everyday life takes a relaxed step back from the every day hustle and bustle of modern life. It seemed that I had arrived at Londons solution to the ‘Old Town’; cobbled pavements and all.  

It was a pleasure to walk trough these quaint streets, and upon immediately turning from the station, one could walk up a path and begin to see the River Thames immediately in front. Surely not I thought, having completely misunderstood my personal geography of the area. However the closer I came, sure enough there it was, a beautiful little area, with a bench or two looking out over the Thames from an angle I hadn’t yet seen. The Shard stood far in the distance; a shining reminder of the hectic business of London Town that seemed somewhat unattached to this peaceful area. A little to the left there stood an old-school pub, similar to so many that we see disappearing these days, complete with what appeared as “locals” enjoying conversation with one another outside, in what must be said was a beautifully sunny day. After taking a moment to breath in the immense beauty of the river and it’s views, I took a small walk, less than a minute left down the cobbled path to the SandsFIlmsStudios.

Seen as I had no idea of the locations existents, it would be a fair deduction to assume I had never been to the venue. This assumption would be correct. I entered through a side green wooden door, and found myself  immediately greeted by a fully equipped table of tea and coffee; complete with a homely set of mugs to choose from. Choosing a mug depicting a wondering Puffin Bird and making myself a pipping hot tea, I took a moment to look around. Seemingly a cosy place, with sofas and cushions, it had a community vibe. Walking through the arch way I entered into an archive room full of slim shelves from ceiling to floor each. These supposedly made up some of the Rotherhithe Picture Research Library, which is a free resource providing visual references to all designers and researchers.(whatever they were). The most intrigued guests for the concert were encouraged to have a browse through the archives whilst sipping on tea before following the mysterious winding pathway to where the evenings entertainment was to take place. 

The rumours were true; the seating for the audience was completely made up of comfortable sofas and armchairs side by side creating multiple rows of seats for each person to choose from. Feeling almost spoiled, cuppa in hand, I tucked a little in on the fourth row centre stage, I sank comfortably into a large oversized armchair, complete with extra cushions. The decoration on the walls was somewhat reminiscent of various manner country estates I had visited, perhaps crossed with a warped “haunted house”. Particularly what comes to mind, is their vast collection of (in my opinion) creepy 3D paintings, or framed dolls that look liked they had been rescued from WW2. I read the accompanying leaflet, and learned that SandsFilms Studios, although having been a film company at some point, was mainly now a place that theatres and films would come to make/use/borrow costumes, and by all means, I assumed props. This somewhat explained an amount of period obscurities adorning each available space. Saying this however, the space seemed utterly perfect for an intimate evening. 

After getting everyone settled in, the evening ahead was introduced, then with no further adue Kadialy Kouyate took to the stage with his kora accompanied by Fred Thomas on double bass.

The instrument of the kora is a wonderful West African guitar harp. Somewhat recognisable visually, the kora has a standard 21 strings; or if you’re from the highly prestigious elite griot family of the Kouyates, then perhaps you have an extra 22nd string providing an additional lower octave. The kora is played by using the thumb and for-finger to pluck at the 21/22 strings. The resulting sound is irreplaceably beautiful. 

The kora is an instrument primarily played by members of griot families from Mali, Africa. A griot family is a tradition of story telling and singing that is passed on hereditarily through ancestral family members. It is a skill that is not widely taught nor learned and therefore makes the art well sought after, and something always worth going out of ones way to see. We have very few ‘in house’ griots here in London, however Kadialy Kouyate coming from Senegal and the ancient old line of the ‘Kouyate’ griots, Kadialy moved to London with the aim of teaching and playing the Kora. He now teaches select students at the University of SOAS London the basic techniques and teachings of the kora. As well as this Kadialy has been playing in a multitude of fusions and collaborations, including success in his own original works. 

I personally arrived at the gig already a huge fan of the kora and of Kadialy himself. The demographic of the intimate small audience said that perhaps everyone in the room had previous knowledge of the kora, it’s story and perhaps of Kadialy Koyate. As the lights went out, I felt dangerously comfortable and snug, and found myself thankful for the energy emanating from my tea. However one should never have feared, because the second Kadialy started to play the Kora, the audience silently gave in to the music completely. In intrigue, or awe perhaps the room fell silent and stayed so for the majority of the performance, aside the bursts of applause. Each song far longer than that we’re used to in the West, they start instrumental kora and Double Bass, then at some point in all the songs Kadialy would start to sing in his soft smooth voice. The voice carried over, and works in perfect harmony with the melodies of the music. 

A dark blue velvet sheet sparkling with like a dark night sky made for a perfect backdrop for the artists and their musical story telling. The overall aesthetic of the evening is enough for review in itself. The venue really added to a sense that the audience were hidden away, tucked away from society listening to this special rare music. It really was rather magical. 

Kadialy sung songs from his album Na Kitabo; of which you can buy on all media platforms, with themes of love and family. The performance was broken into two sections by a fitting interval. One could replenish their coffee’s and tea’s, and have a chance to ‘break-bread’ with Kadialy Kouyate himself. After a short break the evening continued, and Kadialy finished the evening with songs about ancestry, the griots travelling, humanity and traditions. Along side all this, it must be noted that Fred Thomas played most admirably, the addition of the double bass added a very distinctive drive, that would have been sorely missed had it not been there. As well as the bass, Fred also during one song played a little percussion adding versatility to the overall sound. 

This step back in time allowed for one evening to forget about the business of the world, the hectic rings of our phones and of our constant communications. Far away on the overground, following a quaint cobbled street, beneath an archive library, tucked away in a comfortable sofa with a hot beverage; I highly recommend the SandsFilms location to anyone, and furthermore the wonderful music of Kadialy Kouyate accompanied by the multi-talented Fred Thomas. 

Songhoy Blues

23.03.17

Omeara (London Bridge)

As soon as I received notification that Songhoy Blues were playing in town, I knew it was an evening I had to attend. I hadn’t listened extensively to the bands repertoire (e.i Album by Album), however had been absolutely attached through a few key songs. These desert punk and blues songs I believe are attractive to everyone who enjoys a taste of the worldlier music. I found that my ‘punk-loving’ Godfather was even envious of my ticket, so it seems that Songhoy have managed tospread their net far and wide, catching the interest of a huge demographic.

    The band released their debut album ‘Music in Exile’ via Transgressive Records label in onlyFebruary 2015. In that very short two years, the band have managed to secure global acclaim and have highlighted themselves an explosive band dominating the ‘desert blues’ genre. 

    It was for this reason that the venue came as a little surprise as it’s not the largest (by far) of venues. It seemed that the evening was set to be an intimate performance as apposed to the larger capacity space I’m sure they could pull off. 

   The Omega is a fantastic little venue, with an incredibly exciting buzz. With a wonderful, if slightly confusing lay out, you can get lost in the little mysterious stairways that lead to upstairs bars, that themselves hang over a dance floor bellow. With twists and turns here and there you’ll be forever discovering small places to enjoy a beer, have a chat or get a bite to eat. Some may not even notice that beside their eating and drinking; there is a modest venue playing live music. 

    Upon arrival I was treated by extremely polite staff who directed me to the venue and gave us the obligatory stamp on the wrist and in we went. 

   Set in a all-brick arch, with a theatre-esc stage, the space is wonderful for live music, with the sound bouncing of the arched ceilings it created a small and intimate space for the audience. Given it’s size and sound quality it seemed nearly impossible to get a ‘bad’ standing space for the performance. The space of the whole building, and especially the stage area is a marvellous feat of old and new, the art with the classic architecture and innovation. It feels as though you are standing in an old underground with the best speakers and music tech surrounding you. The stage reminds me of an old pop-up book I had when I was younger, at one level we have the room and audience, then the stage pops up, then the performers pop up one behind, then finally a wall block of myst and lights to really set each layer apart. 

   Songhoy Blues came out on the stage and jumped immediately into their up-beat fast paced song; Soubour. The guitars really had an amazing sound, with the two lead guitarist playing on classic Gibson Les Pauls; their crisp sound resonated through the tiny arched space engulfing the whole room. The energy never failed to fall as they jumped straight into their next track, the extremely recogniseable Al Hassidi Terei. 

 It soon came to fruition however, that this amazing space was somewhat ‘un-drummer friendly’, seen as I came to realise that all I could see of the drummer was the occasional drum stick poking through the mist. Something the venue needs to work on, however it really must be said that the overall effect of having the stage tucked inside this unique space really is fantastic, with the lights shining through a thick layer of dry ice, made for such dramatic visuals it was actually very nearly besotting.

   The performance that Songhoy Blues then proceeded to play, was undeniably amazing. The audience; varied in every way absolutely loving every second were in the palm of their hand, with applauses filling the room mid song and nearing the end of every song too. Not once did a single foot stop tapping away to the extremely tight professional tunes. It felt as though I had never listened to another artists whilst in the concert as they took over all the senses completely and had my body and mind completely attached to their every note. 

    It was stunning the ferocity of each track, one after another it seemed they were a well established band at the end of their story playing nothing but ‘one hit wonders’. On the contrary however the Garba Touré Aliou Touré (lead singer) said to the audience;

   “This is an intimate gig, a family gig if you will… If you want to see us again, we will be headlining Somerset House on the 16th of July”

If this performance was only an intimate family version of their ‘headlining’ set, then we’d all be fools not to be there when they really go for it. 

   Their songs also carried messages that rung somewhat bitterly true for at least I’m sure all the British citizens in the room. Given that our wonderful Prime Minster had promised to start the proceedings for leaving the EU (a.k.a Brexit) it is known that this will hold complications for everyone travelling to and from the UK. So when the band made the shocking statement the the gentleman playing bass for them had only practiced a total of two hours with the band as he is not the original bass player. The reason being that their bassist had found himself refused entree into the UK, it seemed a shared sigh and a communal ‘shaking of the head’ swept the audience. I found myself wondering how many other wonderful musicians we are going to be deprived off in the future. The band expressed their feelings about this happening, and told us how it is not something new to them. They spoke of the many injustices caused by their ethnicity and skin color and then introduced a song they had written about it. The song was entitled ‘One Color’ which received a roaring applause, as one of the more well known tracks from the band, it was amazing to be apart of the story telling behind the writing. 

  “Our Ethnicity, Our skin color, Our origin - It doesn’t matter. Music is mutual, Music is different, Music is everyday” - inspiring words from Songhoy that certainly helped to build a feeling of solidarity among the audience. 

   I could have been at this Songhoy Blues concert with my best friends, having a crazy time or with my Godfather or with family, with anyone basically. I believe that their feel-good, afro funk vibes would have encapsulated any member of any audience. I came away from the gig, smiling ear to ear, a newly dedicated fan to the band; eager to get home and buy all their albums. 

   If you get the chance to see them live, it seems to me an absolute must, as their energy and happiness is highly infectious.

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

20.03.17

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. 

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Lee ‘Scratch' Perry and The Upsetters, support from Kioko.

LeePerry Content

05.03.17

The Village Underground 

 

Reggae is certainly one of my favourite genres of music to see performed live. It would be very hard indeed to find a ‘reggae lover’ who hasn’t heard of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (a.k.a The Upsetter). Having been an active musician since the 50’s, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry has been at the forefront of musical innovation, noted as being an ‘inventor’ in dub music having created new studio recording and production techniques. Needless to say being able to see Lee Perry, simply in the flesh, was a thrilling experience. 

  The Village Underground tucked away in east London, is a wonderfully renovated underground space, with red brick walls, large arches, and high ceilings, the venue was cool aesthetically and a fantastic for capturing the sound.

  The packed support for the evening was: Reggae Roast, MC Brother Culture, Resonators and Kioko. I arrived during the final battling of MC Brother Culture with the Resonators certainly setting the scene for a night of real roots reggae. 

  The audience was what I’d have expected; a larger number of older people, ready to re-live ‘the good old days’ (Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry himself was born in 1936 and is now 80!), plus many younger people of all ages and fashions. One thing I believe everyone had in common was the idea that this concert was for many, a ‘bucket-lister’, and probably a one-and-only chance to see such a prominent character in music history.  

  The final support act came to the stage ten members strong, with a standard reggae set-up complete with a brass section. I immediately liked their energy, the “vibe” seemed fitting to pump up an audience for such an event. Opening their act with almost ‘chant’ like lyrics;

“Listen to the music that makes you feel free, Sing it back to me….KIOKO”. Starting with a huge amount of ‘audience participation’ (perhaps too much for my personal liking) their songs were certainly energetic, catchy and woke up the audience. The lead singers voice reminded me of one of my favourite bands ‘The Skints’ vocals; and perhaps for that reason I warmed to the band. They smoothly jammed through 45 minutes certainly building the excitement and feeding the buzz for ‘the legend that is Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’. 

  Having worked with some of the biggest names in Reggae history such including: ‘Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, the Congos, Max Romeo, Adrian Sherwood, the Beastie Boys, Ari Up, and many others’…This ideology that Lee Perry is a ‘Legend’ was not only fit, but was clearly a respected title, as every musician on stage that evening that spoke of the man as ‘the legend’. 

  Finally around 10pm the, also world renowned, band ‘The Upsetters’ came to the stage, they then proceeded to play an instrumental piece before asking the audience if we were ready for “The Legend himself….LEE ‘SCRATCH’ PERRY”.

  I honestly have to say, I was filled with joy as Lee Perry came to the stage and the band jumped straight into a set filled with classics. The man himself brought enough joy for the evening with simply his bodacious outfit that reminded me some what of a magpie. At 80 years old, Lee Perry was dressed in an orange suit, with matching orange beard and hair, a hat bedazzled with gems, whilst adorning all manor of exotic jewels and sparkles. 

  On the microphone, Lee Perry rarely sung the lyrics to any of the songs throughout the evening and instead seemed to freestyle reggae talk over the tunes rhyming about anything and everything. For nearly the whole rendition of ‘Iron Shirt’ Lee Perry was singing about his ‘ginger wine’ that near to the end of the song was found by a stage tech and handed to Lee Perry, who then moved on to sing about something it appeared he had found on the floor. 

Although unorthodox, I felt that it in no way damaged the evening. Looking around, the general reception of the performance seemed happy, with people frequently sharing laughs and generally enjoying the atmosphere. 

I was reminded of the old saying “The older you get, the less you care” and thinking of how empowering the performance was. I also found myself thinking that had the concert been advertised as ‘The Upsetters with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry improvising lyrics throughout’…I’d still have brought a ticket. 

   The Upsetters played flawlessly, a seriously professional polished set that was executed perfectly. I felt that the whole evening exceeded expectations. The fact Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry hardly sung one whole line of his lyrics that we all know so well, but instead spoke completely random off the cuff rhymes; created what felt like a more profound, intimate and certainly original experience. 

 

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

DzamboContent

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. 

 

The Världens Band

13.11.16

RICH MIX (Brick Lane, London) 

 

“Fourteen musicians, seven countries, three continents, one band”. Any world music lover would have their hands full with such a rich roster of indigenous instruments as are involved in the Världens Band. This colossal collection of cultures play styles of music hailing from the furthest corners of the world. Whilst watching the Världens Band I heard classical Indian inspirations, Swedish punk melodies, Mediterranean rhythms, Senegalese fusions, classic Greek and Scottish sounds, each blended with a multitude of various influences. 

     I walked into the ‘Rich Mix for the first time and I immediately liked the aesthetics of the venue. With its soft sunset coloured lights, it seemed there was a warm energy coming from the central stage. I looked around and couldn’t observe a particular demographic from the already formed crowd. Adults, old and young, stood side by side. Myself with a group of ethnomusicology students, stood next to a grandfather, father and son; a rare sight at a concert. There was nothing linking the varied audience together, such as style. 

     Immediately the eyes feasted upon the multitude of worldly decor and instruments dressing the stage. From mbiras, to koras, clarinets to Galician pipes, guitars to ukuleles, doumbeks to tablas, fiddles to accordions to name but a few. Promptly at 8pm, 14 musicians took to the stage and, without introduction, played their first tune: Thillana. Thillana is a traditional Indian song beginning with a lady singing in a traditional ‘devotional’ way; she is then joined, by the pipe, drums and fiddle. The audience is immediately receptive, seemingly impressed, applause circulates before the end of the song punctuating the singing of Charu Hariharan, who has won devotional singing competitions and has a wealth of traditional music teachings.  

    The tone it seemed, was set. Jumping immediately into their second song: this time one of the drummers came forward and played a tar which I had never before seen played live. So this ethnographer was starting to feel satisfied by this ‘world music’ concert. Furthermore the switching of instruments highlighted the multi instrumentalism of the obviously multi-talented players. The song then proceeded to gain instrumentation: bagpipes, flute, percussion and fiddle. Heralding quickly into an unlikely speedier pace - this pleased the audience who started to dance and clap along. This pattern of strange tempo combinations with break-down bridges was ever-present throughout their performance, mixing genres, tempos, rhythms and instruments in every song. Each introduction described which member of the band had written the song, from where in the world they had written it, and what styles it incorporated. This gave the impression that the audience were being taken on a journey: from each of the musicians home towns/countries, to the collected places they have travelled together. Each song was also embellished with a personal anecdote from the musicians, thus intensifying the bond between audience and performer, and by extension, audience members to one another. Furthermore the musicians themselves represented many different ethnicities, each adorned with clothes of wonderful colours and fabrics not local to London. An array of styles it seemed, representing their native homes, or perhaps collected whilst travelling the world together.

      Halfway through the evening, they left the stage, taking a break. Breaking a set into two halves isn’t something that happens in the majority of headlining gigs. I believe perhaps this was a sign of the seriousness with which they take their music and styles. If one was to attend an orchestral performance in a concert hall, it would be expected to see the performance split into two, unlike the many rock or pop bands I have seen.  The break allowed for discussion of the performance so far, and a buildup of anticipation for the second half. 

     I’d like to speak specifically about when Abdou Cissokho (born in South Senegal), introduced a song entitled “Revolution” saying “We are the young people and the old people of the revolution and we could make this world better… trust me” at which laughter rippled through the otherwise silent crowd. Each audience member appeared to be listening intently to the introductions of each song - something that had become apparently necessary in order to understand the forthcoming fusions. Starting a beautifully intense duet between Kora and fiddle, (played by Anna Möller of Sweden), with the gentle shake of a tambourine, a slow steady reggae beat is introduced with added bass, and ukulele. Abdou then sings the soft melody of a religious hymn sung to bring people together. Then it built up and was accompanied in parts by five part harmonies. The effect was instantaneous, as I look around the audience, all eyes are emotionally clamped on the delicate ornamentations being played on the Kora. A synonymous sway seemed to connect every person in the room together with one another and with the musicians.  Supporting musicians on the accordion, doumbek, the Galician pipe and ukulele built a slow tension, to then drop out completely to be replaced by a bass/kora bridge which was almost performed in a call and response fashion. This once againreminded us of the versatility of the band. Then at once, with a flourish of Kora playing, all the instruments are brought back this time to a faster, upbeat reggae, almost afro-beat rhythm

I chose to speak about this song in depth for two reasons, firstly because not one person could be seen standing stationary during this song, and the undeniably enthused round of applause received at the end of the song, which resonated longer than any other. It felt as though, if I had listened to their album before the performance, that this song would have been the anticipated highlight of the evening. Secondly because having later listened to their recorded version and compared it with their live version, it is clear to see that the musicians themselves are versed in live improvisation; the studio version of ‘Revolution’ has much softer overtones throughout the whole track. Whereas, when played live, it built an energy throughout the whole song, which in turn, amounted to a climactic ending. The scene resembled that of a dramatic carnival like celebration, with people dancing with one another, and taking strangers by the arms. 

      I once heard a seminar on the ‘affect’ of live music between each audience member with one another and also with the musicians. It said that the audience noticing one another enjoying the music, in this case, smiling and dancing, only enhances the feeling of ‘joy’ in the occasion and that this ‘joy’ will be enhanced further if it is shared emotionally with the audience as well as the musicians. I found myself thinking back to this whilst watching the Varldens. The obvious friendship and love for each of their songs was easily seen through their smiles to one another, their laughing and energetic dancing, which certainly enhanced an almost transcendent like joy from the audience. 

     After looking into the bands repertoire,  I found this quote from their website “Världens Band performs a mix of folk and roots music from its members’ native countries in a collision of cultures and a style self-branded as ‘Transglobal Roots Fusion’”. Since Transglobal normally refers to some kind of global network it seems a suitable choice of branding. 

Reading more into their background, it was clear each musician is highly esteemed and classically trained in their native folk music. They have many awards between them with many taking music classes with ‘masters’ of their skill. This was clear in the easy flow and complexity of the whole performance. Their album released in 2015 is entitled, ’Transglobal Roots Fusion’. Upon listening to the album and finding that not one track had the same origins as the next; I found myself further impressed as the quality of the recordings are of a very high standard making for easy listening. Being able to listen to each song more intently allowed for a better appreciation of the native styles woven into every track. I felt a sense of nostalgia when I heard a familiar part of a song, taking me back to their live performance. So it’s clear even a subliminal as well as a literal impression had been made. 

     The end of the concert heard a seemingly never-ending applause punctuated with cheers, ‘whoops’ and whistles. After requests for an encore, they introduced themselves and their team, played one final song and left the stage. I found that a huge number of the audience stayed behind, chatting to one another: strangers discussing their experiences with many people buying albums from the stall. I left feeling elated, feeling as though perhaps it was the perfect place to be on cold Thursday night in London. I have since bought their album, which I rate highly.