live

Seby Ntege

SebyNtege

14.10.18

Green Notes (Camden)

Walking into the small an intimate Green Notes venue in Camden, a wave of heat is the first thing to greet you, but second to that was a wall of incredible energy and sound bursting from the stage, that just managed to hold Seby Ntege and his four piece band. 

The groove reminded me of surfing waves, although played on a kora and accompanied by Angel Motoka on vocal harmonies, Seby Ntege, a multi-instrumentalist from Uganda swaps his 22 stringed West-African lute: the kora, for a African drum: the djembe.

The stamina of the band exceeded expectation, Seby himself is one of the most jolly characters in music, with a cheeky smile and a laugh that cracks out during every moment: a contagious laugh that kept the audience in high spirits, chuckling in between each song, the guitarist Sherratt was also funny, cracking jokes and adding to the positive vibes. 

During the set Seby played many instruments from his home in Uganda, including a Akogo, a type of kalimba: which is a small thumb piano. He also played a smaller version of a kora, an adungu, as well as engalabi and djembe percussion. 

When playing the akogo during one song, it sounded as though it was possessed through a wah wah pedal, which I’d never heard on a thumb piano. Sebys album ‘5 Notes’ of which the concert was promoting as part of their tour: is about in London for the past 15 years, and how he misses the 5 note pentatonic music from his home town, whilst still enjoying London. In this way, I think you could feel the message of fusion between the two lands for Seby in some noticeably western musicalities, such as the wah wah on the akogo.

Seby code switched between his home languages and English, all lyrics delivered passionately and elaborately, emotions etched completely in Sebys expressions and delivery. 

The songs were mostly upbeat, happy, prompting ‘whoops’ and encouraging cries from the audience at times, as well as musical clapping, singing along and even during a couple of tunes sporadic dancing erupted throughout the hole space.

The electric guitar was a treat, seeming that Sherratt had fully embodied the music Seby plays as they trill off one another cyclically in characteristic guitar styles of West Africa. Bass player Lucas also completely dissolved in the music is actually credited with producing ‘5 Notes’. 

The rapport between band members was happy and fun, and thus between band and audience. 

Seby brought the carnivorous tone down to do an emotional song about his mothers passing. The audience sat down to listen intently. The song was so beautiful, there were tears to be seen, I myself even found myself thinking lovingly after my own mother… promoting a shake back into reality when the song ended.  

The evening with Seby and his band was notable by endless smiles and laughter, music that makes you dance and musicians that are professional and happy, all punctuated regularly by Seby’s authentic and contagious chuckling. 

Roger Waters ‘Us + Them’ Tour

Dark Side of the Moon prism shining over the audience at Hyde Park

Dark Side of the Moon prism shining over the audience at Hyde Park

06.07.18 

Hyde Park

 

The experience of seeing a member of Pink Floyd is one I wasn’t sure I’d ever have; I remember telling myself when I saw ‘Easy Stars All Stars, does, Dub Side of The Moon’ live in Boomtown 2014, that this is the closest I would ever be to seeing the album performed live. Yet on Friday the 6th July I found myself standing among a sea of sixty-five thousand bearded hippies at Hyde Park for the Great British Summer Time sold out event featuring Roger Waters on his politically charged ‘Us+Them’ tour. We had already confirmed that the  set list would packed full of Floyd classics. 

 

The event itself also featured Richard Ashcroft, who I must say, as no major fan of indie rock, I wasn’t most excited about, but lo and behold as certain ‘The Verve’ classics rippled through the audience, I found myself just as jubilant as the side-burned rockers surrounding me. As well as this, comic disco duo ‘The Cuban Brothers’ gave me reason to dance and laugh hysterically whilst they delivered a top notch performance, MC-ing, DJ-ing, with some rather impressive dancing in between the main stage acts. It was clear to see around the 7:30 mark, when the smaller stages switched acts, that there wasn’t a single person in the arena who hadn’t been really anticipating this event, and this moment. Perhaps since they brought their tickets, or perhaps since they first brought Floyd’s first album ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ in 1968.  A side note on the stalls: as you were only allowed to bring in one 500ml of unopened water into the arena, I can comment on the drinks available: the shining star was the Bacardi rum cocktail truck. They kept me hydrated, happy and they tasted like a summer party.

 

The main stage had two larger than life plastic trees that blended into natural back drop of the Hyde Park trees, creating the illusion the stage was emerging from nature. Also an pyrotechnical impressive screen that stretched the entire width of the stage making for some really cool projections. I couldn’t think of a better song to open the show, immediately connecting everyone in the experience together for moment of history as Roger Waters comes out, the audience hear ‘Breathe’, and reply in the thousands ‘breathe in the air’. 

KKK Trump

KKK Trump

 

What proceeded was a musical orgy for any Floyd fan, with classic after classic bellowing from the stage in almost original perfection. Including the  stunning vocals of Waters backing singers on the ‘The Great Gig In the Sky’, the epic ‘Welcome To The Machine’, then a trio of Roger originals: ‘Déjà Vu’, ‘The Last Refugee’ and ‘Picture That’. To finish set one, we had a selection from ‘The Wall’ album: ‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’ and closing the set: ‘Another Brick in the Wall part 1&2’ during which, Waters really hiked up the political activism in the show by being accompanied by a choir of children from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, clad in orange prison-like jumpsuits resonating with the story from Guantanamo, and the incarceration of many young black teens in America. My mind had already began to race at the imagery and iconography being used, then Waters wore a jumpsuit also with a hood over his head pretending to be tied up with his hands above his head like a torture victim, an incredibly arresting image. There was no going back from this roaring statement.

Inflatable anti-trump pig... Stay Human OR Die

Inflatable anti-trump pig... Stay Human OR Die

 

During the interval, Waters showed politically riveting slogans urging the audience to see the truth of our political state today. Particularly taking aim at the Conservatives and Republicans. He made no secret his aim was to tackle Trump and May. 

Stay Human OR Die

Stay Human OR Die

 

The second act was incredible. Whilst the opening clatters of ‘Dogs’ echoed through the stunning surround sound, the famous pillars of Battersea Power Station arose from behind the stage, smoke and all, and to match, the epically large screen resembled the body of the station… complete with the iconic pig hanging from one chimney to the other as in the  famous ‘Animals’ cover. The audience went crazy. I went crazy, it was almost too cool. As well as this, in the second set, a huge inflatable pig flew over the crowd plastered with anti-Trump slogans and with the words ‘Stay Human /or Die’ as they began to play ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’. While immaculate Floyd songs satisfied each Floyd fan, flashing images of Donald Trump  wearing a Klu Klux Klan mask and Theresa May took residence on the screen with a selection of their most haunting quotes. 

Battersea in Hyde Park

Battersea in Hyde Park

 

The message was becoming as clear as a punch in the face, and if this wasn’t enough, Waters himself andt his band members, during ‘Dogs’, turned around wearing rather scary pig masks and climaxing with Waters himself holding a sign that read ‘PIGS RULE THE WORLD!’. This he then turned to show ‘FUCK THE PIGS!’. It really was astonishing. I wondered how many people might have tried to stop Waters plans in the making of this show, and I admired his spirit, soul and bravery. I also greatly cherished the political education he must be giving some people, plus the outright audacity to which he presented the points. It was simply enthralling, gobsmacking, and damn right BRILLIANT. 

Roger Walters Carrying a sign reading one side: PIGS RULE THE WORLD!, and the other 'FUCK THE PIGS'

Roger Walters Carrying a sign reading one side: PIGS RULE THE WORLD!, and the other 'FUCK THE PIGS'

 

"Resistance through together-ness” was the theme and I felt as though Roger Waters was speaking so loudly through the muted voice of thousands of people, whilst ensuring he resonated with their ideologies. Needless to say the execution of the songs were note-perfect, if not larger than life, due to the excellence in sound engineering with surround sound echoing around Hyde Park: the sounds of helicopters and roaring crowds bustled from one side of the park to the other creating a supper immersive experience. Set two reads like an activists ‘to do’ list in sign making: Dogs, Pigs, Money, Us + Them, Smell the Roses, Brain Damage and Eclipse. Before treating us to the finale (appropriately chosen ‘Comfortably Numb’, a sound reflection of the audience), Waters left the stage and came back with keffiyeh scarf. Here he said perhaps the most pertinent political statement of the show…   

Baby Trump

Baby Trump

 

“I don’t know about you, but if you believe in the declaration of Human Rights 1948…void of age, nationality, race or colour, then I believe that this extends to ALL humans, and most certainly to our brothers and sisters in Palestine”.   He then took the scarf and told the audience it was made by Palestinian refugees and he wore it proudly throughout the finale. It was an almost shocking statement to hear in central London, where by the powers-that-be would seemingly prefer to create an illusion that nothing is happening to the Palestinians. 

It was nearly easy to forget the stunning show that was simultaniously unfolding: a feat of pyrotechnics as the 'Dark Side' prisom shone through the air in a fabulous light display potruding from the stage, and of course, a finale of fireworks erupting from Battersea, a spectacle indeed. 

I felt stunned, shocked and completely in love with Roger Waters performance. I could never ever have guessed that he would combine his philanthropy so intensely with his music. Not only that, he challenged an ever-growing and scary ideal that seems to spreading like wildfire, especially in Republican, far right America. All the while public figures are shying away from political subjects in order to keep the calm. However Waters preached humanity, civility and equality for around three hours to 65,000 ecstatic Floyd fans. I for one commend his character, his show and his priorities. 

 

Pink Floyd, who I had previously already thought to be among the best music there can be, got infinitely better, and a performance I had been longing for ever since I first heard ‘Wish You Were Here’ absolutely smashed my expectations musically, socially, politically and emotionally. Not only for a Roger Waters as ‘Pink Floyd’ performance, but actually as one of the best performances by ANYONE I have ever seen. 

 

HATS OFF SIR, thank-you for using your voice when so many do not. 

 

PEACE to ALL. 

Finale

Finale

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

 

 

 

 

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.