funk

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 

Farai and the Forest Dawn and the Kihaya Blues

Rich Mix (Brick Lane) 

25.03.17 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farai

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.