Jazz Cafe, London
When buying my ticket previous to this event, the Jazz Cafe website stated: ‘It is very difficult to put into words the significance and stature of an individual like Fela Kuti’, I was dubious as to, if at all, how well it could be done. Bukky Leo however promised to bring this monumental music to life with the help of the all-star ‘Black Egypt’.
Having been originally picked up playing saxophone on the streets of Lagos, by drummer legend Tony Allen. Bukky Leo became renowned in the acid jazz scene, playing globally, Lagos to London becoming undoubtedly one of the most important afrobeat musicians alive. Bukky Leo, is a rare musician that has had the honour of playing in ‘Africa 70’ with afrobeat innovator Feta Kuti himself.
Upon arrival, the Jazz Cafe had set an afro-aesthetic mood, with soft dim lights of yellows and reds. The Dj from ‘Open The Gate’s' Fenomeno started the evening with some easy swaying roots reggae, gradually adding more afro-beats/jazz tunes as the venue packed out. The varying demographic in the audience all looked intent and ready for the night ahead, most of us having missed out on the original date two weeks previous, of which quickly sold out, prompting the addition of a new date.
With nearly each member of the audience in motion, the band took to the stage, and jumped head first into their set, stopping only after the second song to introduce the stage. Each member receiving a warm welcome, some familiar faces also, such as Kishon Khan on keys, renowned British jazz pianist, composer, arranger and producer. Kishon Khan the previous week had given a seminar in ‘The School of Oriental and African studies’, SOAS, on the rhythmic and melodic foundations of Cuban music, whilst also promoting his position in the Black Egypts. Mark Crown on trumpet has also been seen playing with a variety of pop and reggae artists, most recently touring with rudimental.
The band played full length songs in tribute to Fela Kuti among some originals from Bukky and the Black Egypts. The energy emanating from the performance clearly engulfed the entire room that seemed almost hypnotised into a dance trance by the music on stage. A personal highlight was Bukky Leo’s rendition of ‘Shuffering and Shmiling’ by Fela. Playing the piece for over nine minutes for me it became nostalgic of every Fela album I’v spent hours listening too. Bukky Leo and the Black Egypts harnessed the magic and talent created by Flea Kuti and managed to bring that magic to the people in the Jazz Cafe that Sunday night.
Bukky and the Black Egypts played numerous Fela pieces and embellished the whole set with similarly complex and lengthy solos, of which truly gave the brass section of the band their time to shine. With Trevor Edwards on trombone, Mark Crown on the trumpet and of corse Bukky Leo on saxophone, the audience was truly felt elevated to original days of Fela and afrobeat, therefore making the celebration of Kuti a tremendous success. The solos from each member brought the jazz, with the on going groove being carried throughout by Richard Tunde Baker on percussion, Saleem Rahmaan on drums, Phill Dawson on Electric Guitar, and Yeukai CheMin and others on the distinctive chanting backing vocals so easily recognisable with afrobeat and Fela Kuti.
The endless toe tapping groove came to an end, the band rapped up and finished their set. The enormity of the songs they played that evening echoed around the Jazz Cafe as people applauded until every member had left the stage. Bukky Leo being the first musician I had personally seen that had played in the past with Fela I left the venue feeling honoured and elated.
The most recent collaboration of Bukky Leo and the Black Egypts is their album released in 2012 entitled ‘Anarchy’, one can also refer to the multitudes of work that Fela Kuti left in the world for more afrobeat. Furthermore don’t hesitate to look up the catalogues of each player within the band, as together they cover a multitude of amazing work and fabulous music.