london

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.

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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

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

Orchestra Baobab

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31.10.17

KoKo (Camden) 

The setting of this beautiful decadent theatre is decorated with a lush dark velvet red throughout, modern, sleek lights combined with traditional glimmers from fancy chandeliers. The aesthetic of the venue truly shines a romantic hew on the musical exchange ahead. Orchestra Baobab themselves, as any listener of African or Cuban music will know, are mavericks of performance which is so deeply ingrained in Afro-Cuban music, spanning back to the 1960’s. Their stamp on the world music scene as a whole, but in particular of an afro-cuban genre, is undeniably permanent and fundamental to the popularity of the genre and/or related genres. 

 

Within the band we have strong influences from the Western African traditional music of the Kora  which traditionally is only learnt as a hereditary instrument, taught from father to son, and passed down as an aural historical account within the family. Orchestra Baobab have a West African griot (oral historian of music) in the band playing the Kora. As well as this, a percussive section of the ensemble use the traditional Cuban rhythm of Son throughout much of their repertoire. Son itself is embedded eternally within the foundations of Cuban music, with its roots deep within the Afro-centric influences on Cuba dating back in the early 1900s from the afro movements of the Atlantic slave trade. For these reasons, it seems to me that seeing Orchestra Baobab is an opportunity to see a stamp in history; to bear witness to the foundations of much consequential music. Having recently played at the prestigious world music festival WOMAD 2017, Orchestra Baobab have been on a world-wide tour and are playing this evening in Camden’s luxury Koko,  a venue which is fully up to the challenge of hosting our legendary guests.

 

So the evening begins: the stage is filled literally with ten band members for the first piece and likewise the atmosphere is immediately filled to the brim as they embark on playing a taster of their tunes. The group were all wearing traditional cloths of varying colours: Ndiouga Dieng (lead vocals) took to the centre stage with a mini drum set up of two floor drums and a high hat. He wore a contrasting pitch black hat with his pure white tunic; meanwhile the Kora player wore beige, the lead guitar wore a light blue tunic with a white hat, and so on….until we reach the saxophonist who broke away from the tradition and wore an elaborately rainbow-esc suit, complete with a purple velvet jacket and a larger than life, oversized red top hat. A most fitting of outfits for the theatrics of our setting. The music kicked off an immediate appreciation throughout the crowd who began to dance and sway to the irresistibly movable music. 

 

The sound was impeccable. With each instrument tuned perfectly, with the fullest richest texture coming through the sound system, their sound technician must be incredibly familiar with very minute personal details to achieve such a full crisp sound. Each tonality of each instrument strung warmth into the audience. Of course needless to say, what would a workman be without his tools; each musician, in their own right are mavericks with their instruments. Not one member of the ten musicians on stage shied away from epic solos and playful improvised exchanges in the form of call and response between one another. Such as a joust occurs between electric guitar and saxophone as they repeat phrases to each other, or between congas and a full drum kit, or vocals and saxophone. On top if this, we see the drummers within themselves swapping kits for different songs, whilst the lead guitar might crank it up for “shredding” guitar solos to be followed by a lively jousting with the Kora. The Kora itself is a 21 stringed West African harp, and can make the most beautiful sounds, and also keep upbeat dancing rhythms. At times the two saxophonists would play immensely groovy licks in perfect sync with one another, to the amazement of the crowd who were lavished with every musical flourish. The evening had a friendly atmosphere as everyone danced, feeling almost transported to the times when Orchestra Baobab were quite literally the ‘orchestra’ of club Baobab, previously famously known as the ‘Star Club’ of Senegal. 

 

On a personal level, I perhaps had one of my most favourite evenings watching Orchestra Baobab in Koko. On an otherwise weary Monday evening, they brought their eclectic fusion of warm afro-cuban rhythms to breathe an Africa wind into our hearts and our dancing hips. Couples everywhere were dancing the rumba, and people of all ages, be it long term fans from the original 60’s line-up of Orchestra Baobab, or perhaps youngsters who may have been swept up in the vinyl revolution that so helped this band reunite in 2011 and continue to play their music to a new larger demographic. Everyone was dancing smiling, and laughing, it seems the energy of the evening was to be as happy as possible, whilst experiencing impeccable music, played to perfection.

Afriqoui

Afriqoui/cover

21.05.17 

The Mangle (Warburton) 

This review shall only be short and sweet primarily as I was off ‘review-writing-duty’ and therefore took no notes and had no intention to write a review. However after taking along friends whom had never seen Afriqoui and seeing their reaction, I decided I had to write just a little bit about this amazing super group. Formed of a five piece; Afriqoui represent the true meaning of underground fusion. With Congolese guitar parts and Malian Mandinka percussion made up from  Djembe and Congas, Afriqoui mix these traditional instruments with electronic music drawing on house, soca, hiphop and soul. Not to mention the use of the Gambian kora played by Jallykebba Susso; a hereditary griot. Really on paper it can not be stressed enough the amazing unique blend this band have made. It’s high-life, it’s fun, it’s dance and it’s traditional too. 

The band is based in London, and I have been lucky enough to catch them playing a number of times over the years and honestly, they only get better with age. Each member of the band form this ‘super-group’ as they are all band leaders in their own rights, however when they come together to create this eclectic explosion of sound, no other music can be remembered in that moment. 

The evening was a celebration of a special release E.P limited print of which they had on sale. The E.P is called Starship and was available only on vinyl. They released their first E.P in 2015; Kolaba, and then two more in 2016 entitled Abobo Nation Part 1 & 2. So although new to the recorded releases, this formation of musicians have actually been rocking festivals and concerts for years longer. 

I brought three tickets as soon as I found out about the concert, as they often to DJ set’s; it was something not to be missed seeing them perform as a live band. I brought three because without hesitation I knew I’d have no problems at all in convincing friends to come with me. I brought along two very good friends, one who had already seen them with me at Boomtown Festival (2016) and had snatched the ticket up the second I mentioned the event, and another friend who had never seen them. The evening was held in a club that I had never been to before; The Mangle but had sadly however been in the news very recently for a horrendous attack that took place only nights before. This dampened our spirits a little perhaps in the queue outside as we realised this dreadful occurrence. However it took no more than two heart beats from stepping inside the club to fully and completely get in the spirit of things. With DJ Khalab, iZem (DJ set) and Cervo (Banana Hill) preparing the evening, for the band themselves weren’t due stage time till 12:40pm! 

Unsure how I was going to deal with such a horrendously late night; the beats spun throughout the hours waiting where impeccably worth it. I barely stopped dancing for a moment to concern myself with the time. Then sure enough before what seemed like too long, out came Afriqoui. The beautiful instruments filled the stage, and they started. 

There’s not much to say from this point on, as it really is one of those occasions that you ‘had to have been there’ type of events. They played all their songs, and played their new tracks from the E.P, and from beat 1 to the very last song (and the three en-chores demanded of them) the roof was raised and people were jumping high. Barely a moment went past that wasn't ram packed with exciting raving beats. This explosive African electronic band in my opinion are doing what they do better than anyone else. It is such a treat to hear a perfect fusion of music, so perfect it begs how it hadn’t been done before. 

My friend whom was new to the band couldn’t keep still for a single moment the whole evening, along with the band, there wasn’t a stationary space to be seen, everywhere jumping, dancing, singing, clapping, a true concoction of energy. 

I really wrote this small review to promote the band, if I were to personally send you a link to their music, you would immediately add it to your playlists, and further link all your buddies to the music too. Once heard, you can not un hear the brilliance. 

BaBa Zula

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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. 

Ata Kak

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19.04.17

The Jazz Cafe (Camden) 

This was a concert that I was particularly excited for. Having been sent an email with a link to Ata Kak’s famous ‘Obaa Sima’ album, more than two, three years ago, it’s safe to say I jumped at the opportunity to see such a guy play live. 

Upon venturing to Ata Kak’s ‘Obaa Sima’ album, you will find low-fi, high life, Ghanian rap, dance and hip-hop. A world of confusing excellence. With one of the most unique voices, it takes a while to visualise the musicians behind such tracks. The album was initially self-recorded in the mid 90’s in Ontario, Canada. The album and it’s subsequent tapes had minimal circulation. Over a decade later Brian Shimkovitz, of whom you may know as the sole curator of the small-time label ‘Awesome Tapes From Africa’, found himself purchasing Obaa Sima off a market stall deep within Cape Coast, Ghana in 2002. After listening to the tape, Brian then made it his mission to find the genius behind the ridiculously infectious album. With absolutely relentless rhymes bursting throughout each song, over repeated synth loops, each song sounds somewhat familiar to the last, and leaves a seed growing internally constantly. So it’s no wonder that Shimkovitz traveled to Germany and Ghana and finally Canada, where the album was recorded, where he then found the elusive Ata Kak, and with his permission remastered the album, speeding up the famous ‘Obaa Sima’ which I think really gave it it’s character. Both slow and faster versions can be found when purchasing the vinyl. Then in 2014 together they released the album. 

Since Ata Kak has been travelling around with ‘Esa’ playing the Obaa Sima album to all those who’ll listen. Esa is Ata Kak's band leader and conductor. On the evening at the Jazz Cafe Esa warmed up the audience spinning some reggae, dance-hall tracks on the decks. There was an infectious groove already circulating the world renowned cafe. The demographic somewhat surprised me a little, being that the audience was mainly made up from young 20- somethings with friends all seemingly looking for an up-beat dance-filled night. Esa led the decks and walked on stage, where he was joined by the band members. They then proceeded to play an instrumental funk filled piece, that gained everyone's excited attention. I hadn’t entirely foreseen the audience demographic, however it seems that they all knew what they were doing. When Ata Kak came out, the applaud was raucous, and he himself - Ata he seemed as excited as the audience, coming out, jumping up and down and ‘woop woop’-ing. Esa, who clearly was the organiser of this chaos could be seen organising the band, directing them as to when to play and to not whilst Ata ran around the stage almost like an excited little kid. They launched immediately into ‘Moma Yendodo’ the second track off the album. The songs are filled with such catchy little segments that the audience were all imitating the sounds created by Ata Kak rapping. I found myself even “singing along” repeated the sounds of the words. 

A strange tech spec for the opening few songs, being that there were four keyboards on stage and a bass guitar. Nothing else. One could be seen looping syths, another playing the repeated riffs, and I can only assume there was another keys for chords and such. The woman on the keys also had two microphones that together created slightly distorted double harmonies. All the while Ata Kak seamlessly raps throughout each and every song. The liquidity of his words swam through the air in a poetic way, almost as though I were listening to spoken word. It made the act of clapping along with the beat almost seem soulful. After a few introducing tracks, they brought out the big guns, swapping one set of keys for an electric guitar they proceeded to play the title track ‘Obaa Sima’. The audience really truly erupted, jumping hectically and singing along incredibly loud, so much so that the audience created an almost chorus to the performance. I had never seen the audience quite as excitable in the Jazz Cafe as they were that night. The energy truly became infectious as Ata Kak danced so ferociously from each available space on the stage, laughing and cheering with the audience. It was almost as though it were his first concert, he seemed utterly thrilled. They played Obaa Sima to perfection it must be said. The set was then continued, playing more from the album. 

The Ata Kak announced that he would be playing a new song, to which the audience responded with upmost pleasure and excitement cheering hard. Ata asked us to participate, but repeatedly singing a motif, once we had the hang of it, Ata then attempted an extremely fast passed rap over the top, beaconing the band to not play; “just them, just the audience”. So we in the crowd became Ata Kaks back up singers/chorus. Although the process was great fun, and we made an astonishingly loud surprisingly ‘in-tune’ chorus, so professional perhaps that Ata Kak himself found he couldn’t complete the rap he was trying to do, and after three or four attempts he laughed with Esa in the band prompting him to continue. He announced “You sing so well, it;’s distracting, I have to rap”, so with an applause and a laugh, the audience stopped his requested singing in order to allow him to Finnish his rap. I must say, it was really rather funny. As well as warming, to see a real musician overcome with excitement and happiness. 

The set ended the same way it started, with soaring energy, infectious laughs and absolutely crazy brilliant songs. 

I nearly forgot to mention, Ata Kak himself has to be one of the smoothest movers I’v seen, dancing across the stage with the grooviest of moves and funkiest of grooves, he truly put anyone under the age of his impressive 78 to shame. I can only hope I’m moving with such a swag when I am his age. 

Kadialy Kouyate and Fred Thomas

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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. 

A Celebration of Fela Kuti with Bukky Leo & Black Egypt

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27.02.17 

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. 

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.