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Gig reviews 06/05/2017

BaBaZula at Under the Bridge  27.04.17

 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 immediately 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 oud 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. 

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SOFAR SOUNDS Presents: Let Drum Beat, Lectures, Carmen Souza Trio 20.03.17 at JuJu’s

On  DJ Ritu’s ‘A World In London’ at Resonance Radio on the 15.3.17 we had more special guests; the fantastic all female ‘Let Drum Beat’. It was on this radio show that they told us of their top-secret gig coming up in London that was being presented by Sofar Sounds. Eager indeed to hear these women play again, I applied via the Sofar Sounds website for the date that they had confirmed they would be playing. I was intrigued as to the Sofar Sounds process; I was told it was top secret; the venue and the acts, and that I would receive and email the day before the date with the details of the following event. So I signed up on their website, and waited.

    Surely enough on Sunday night, I received an email, albeit a tad more informative; I still had no idea of the acts I would be seeing along side Let Drum Beat, but I did however know that the event was being held in JuJus’s Bar and Stage. JuJu’s Bar and Stage is a little hidden, noticeable by only a sandwich board, consequently my ‘Google Maps’ that often enjoys sending me on incorrect wild chicken chases, I ended up at the wrong end of Brick Lane. Not all was lost however, as  this detour allowed me a world famous ‘Salted Beef Bagel’ (mustard free for me) from ‘Beigel Bake’ (159 Brick Lane). A must for any visitors, and a delicious treat for any home town Londoners.

   Bagel baked, and lips licked, I eventually found JuJu’s, had my name found on the intimate list of guests, and in I went. Juju’s is a fantastic space, with a spacious ‘stage’ elevated from the floor to the right, with room to dance, with a bar that stretches far left with high ceilings and an open feel, JuJu’s seemed perfect to hold a Sofar Sounds project.

 

Blankets, Camera, Action!

 

The evening was hosted by a Sofar sounds representative who took the moment to explain a little how the evenings worked and how they came out. Supposedly the project has been running for over eight years now, and has been awarded funding from Richard Branson. Since this investment, they have grown substantially, now being active in over 300 cities world wide including LA and Paris. The idea is simple, if you have a venue, be it your living room or your bar, you can apply to volunteer your space for an evening of music. From there Sofar Sounds will find suitable acts, lights and cameras, blankets and all manner of things to make the evening comfortable. They also encourage you to bring your own alcohol and food. Sofar Sounds films the evening that is performed acoustically, with simply just a few recording mics, then makes a rather fancy looking video that can be used by everyone involved.

    This is an idea I can totally get on board with. The host said “Are you frustrated with going to concerts and you can’t see because people are on their phones” - this I could relate to easily, having recently been frustrated by a group of elderly people at a balkan concert who filmed the entire event ‘live to Facebook’. I also find myself frequently wondering if I am stood behind quite possibly the tallest man alive, and have to make do with seeing half the performances faces, as the gentleman in front allows an ‘every other beat’ window of vision with his side-to-side swaying. These are the kinds of things that can become grating at concerts.

   Sofar Sounds has really capitalised on these annoyances, and created a live space for music lovers, where they can come together with a shared respect for the music, and have a relaxed chilled out evening, enjoying, seeing and hearing all the music. Keeping the capacity to 50 people max, is probably a sensible number to keep under control. Finally the matter of the anonymous performers I think is actually a touch of genius. It’s ideas such as this, that I believe are imperative to the survival of live music events such as these.

Anyway, on to the music!

  So the first band to be introduced were our friends ‘Let Drum Beat’. The performance area had their wonderful exotic collection of percussion instruments from Brazil, Benin and I’m sure miscellaneous other collections. Un-like when these wonderful women played on ‘A World In London’, they had no bass player, but instead a double bass player. They joined their instruments on stage, each women looking exotically beautiful and worldly. They then proceeded to treat us to some perfectly gorgeous Aro-Brazillan tracks the first of which started soft and gentle, and gradually built up to a climactic end. It seemed as though, as the track grew thicker, the audiences smiles grew broader. Like the arrival of spring coming through the darkness. It really felt as if Let Drum Beat were a breath of fresh air. Their second song compromised of simply an acoustic guitar and the Berimbau, a west African mouth bow, but a more modern Brazilian adaption. This song had such as driving force behind it, and an almost dangerous sounding thrive. It somewhat reminded me of the soundtrack to the world wide ‘Breaking Bad’ TV series. The third song really heard the cello fusing with the Brazilian, telling us that this song was inspire by North East Brazil. They spoke of how the ‘Tukra’ language had inspired them, and how they have been fusing the more melodic instruments to their percussion heavy repertoire. They said that;

 “Through music, we can keep everything alive”.

The band are recording and EP and have a few gigs coming up that can be found on all standard platforms.

 

As they left the performance area, we were told there’d be a 10/15 minute break before the next act. I was unaware of the structure of the evening initially, however having thought about it, having three half hour sets, with small breaks seems like a good balance, and a nice amount of music for one evening. Allowing the audience to stretch, chat, and get back to enjoying the music.

    The next band that performed were introduced as ‘Lectures’. They consisted of a bass, acoustic guitar and vocals, a Prophet ’08 keys and synth and a small acoustic drums set up. Their music can be described as ambient, soft, indie, perhaps a little rock too. I rather liked the unique voice of the singer, and the calm energy radiating from their performance. Their overall sound reminded me of a mash up between Alt J and Jake Bugg, however in saying that, they certainly sounded original to their own sound, and had more soulful melodic lines. Their EP ‘Entree Point’ came out the week previous to this concert, and they played u the title track. From this title track I shall certainly be giving the whole Ep a listen. The rest of their tracks came with an effortless soulful groove. I particularly liked the old school keys to synth combination creating an ambient structure for their songs. For their song; ‘Peaches’ started with a driving drum gently thumping throughout, of which I like as a rhythm. However this is where my first criticism comes in, it seemed that the acoustic environment should perhaps have allowed for simply drums and vocals, as the combination of the two drowned one another out, making it very hard to hear and follow the lyrics. Although this was a shame, their last song pulled through and finished the set on an up. As with most their songs, the endings are somewhat abrupt and out the blue, a trait that I found I had warmed too in their musicality, almost taken a back, the audience realises the songs over, then reply with a warm applause.

 

Next up was the Carmen Souza Trio. Quite the introduction they received, having released five albums, and soon to be releasing their sixth, this afro-jazz and soul band were perhaps the most experienced of the three acts to the performing that evening. Immediately I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the singers guitar and specialised guitar amp. I couldn’t quite get the make of the two, however the guitar was quite the spectacle of beauty. Accompanying this stunning set up was a bass guitarist and a small acoustic jazz drum set up. The band went forth and played a stunning set of soulful, jazzy tunes, sung I believe in French. The singer had the most stunning high end trills in her voice, frequently skipping octaves all together. There was an overall impression of professionality. They traveled through a variety of genre sounds whilst keeping it rapped up in this smooth delivery. I thought I heard some Seben guitar, a little Brazilian rhythms. Their songs were entitled things such as ‘Bird’, and ‘Hand of God’. The drummer took a chance to shine with a small drumming solo, that had each member of the audience air tapping along on their legs, the bass was strong and driving throughout, accompanied by an awesome, what we call in the industry - Bass Face. The band asked for some audience participation. Perhaps it is because of the smaller more particular audience, however the “sing along with me Mozambe!” back and forth chanting sounded remarkably professional and actually rather poetic. So ten out of ten to the beautifully sounding audience, that really made their set special, all inclusive, and really rather lovely.

 

 

As I left that evening at a gorgeously reasonable 10pm. I felt fulfilled having seen three professional bands, with a quick and efficient turn around, a comfortable and accessible view and an evening of lovely entertainment. I am rather impressed with the Sofar Sounds set-up, and hope that it will continue, and also inspire like minded people to create more of these environments for live music. 

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Farai and the Forest Dawn and Kihaya Blues – at Rich Mix 25.03.17 by Sophie Darling

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Songhoy Blues - at Omeara (London Bridge) 23.03.17 by Sophie Darling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Kadialy Kouyate and Fred Thomas @ SandsFilms Studios 05.04.17

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.

Seeing as I had no idea of the location's existence, 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 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. 

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Ata Kak + Esa @ The Jazz Cafe 19.04.17

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. 

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Afriqoui @ The Mangle  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. 

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The Yamato Drummers at The Peacock Theatre, London, March 2017

 2017 has become my year of The Japanese Drum.

 Firstly, with Joji Hirota & The Taiko Drummers at their memorable gig for Resonance radio a couple of months ago, when they shook the walls of the small Club Inégales with their polyrhythmic beats and mysterious patterns.  And now tonight, further complexities of Japanese music were displayed by the mighty Yamato Drummers of Japan, at the Peacock Theatre, London.

 The Yamato Drummers are undertaking a world tour over this year and into 2018, and they have been travelling the globe since their foundation in 1993.  They work as an ensemble, include both men and women, and sing, play other instruments dance, and tell stories, often in the universal language of humour.  Shrugs and facial expressions know no borders, and neither do their graceful movements, powerful playing and beautiful costumes.

I came anticipating an evening of drumming, and never expected the theatre and storytelling for which the percussion was so much an accompaniment. 

 Their drumming is mighty.  The physical size of the largest one they use is visually daunting.  It takes four men to lift it and the reverberation and sound fills the thousand-seater hall and shakes your entire body.  But it's not like the sound of a bass coming through the separation wall from your neighbour's intrusive music; this big drum seems to work as a therapeutic calmer, the sound not merely going into my body via my ears, but through my stomach, my hands, the back of my neck.  The Yamato Drummers' music has been described as 'music for all the senses', and this was sure proof that more than my sight and hearing were experiencing it.

The whole evening was an entertainment rather than a performance.  The programme's seven sections are reflections on people's everyday lives -  their struggles, joys, achievements, feelings of failure and self-doubt, their memories and hopes, and above all their strengths.  This is no philosophical treatise, however – it's to show what's going on for all of us, in one way or another, and whether we recognise it or not, the challenges we all face.  And Yamato give us music, dance and song to both get through, lift our spirits, and enjoy all we can.

The performance is thoughtfully staged – the layered positioning of the drummers, individual entries and exits, the use of space, the players' discreet involvement in setting up their drums.  This ensures the fluidity of the evening, with no noticeable pauses between pieces.

The range of drumming is superb.  The polyrhythmic patterns and varying pitches at times create a  near trance.  Drums do not have to be loud to be effective.  The relatively low volumes can still vibrate through your whole body. 

 The Yamato Drummers are bound to return to London.  Do go and see them, it's a stunning experience.

 The Yamato Drummers' Artistic Director Masa Ogawa was recently in conversation on “A World In London” with DJ Ritu.  Listen here: https://soasradio.org/music/episodes/awil-215-yamato-drummers-of-japan

Norman Druker

 

 

 

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Namlo + Kadialy Kouyate and Merlyn Driver. 2.3.17 @ Rich Mix. By Sophie Darling

 Rich Mix is renowned for staging some of Londons finest world music evenings, I felt highly anticipated for the evening ahead.  Having not previously heard of the headlining band ‘Namlo’, I was unsure what to expect. My first surprise came upon arrival, seeing the room decked out with chairs. The layout worked well with chairs in the standing area and also nearer the back, the space was warm and welcoming.

 I happily chose a seat a few rows from the front and settled down. To the right of the stage homemade food was available; a Nepalese menu put on by ‘YakBites’, vegan and gluten-free. In the spirit of the evening I treated myself to a ‘platter’ in order to have a small taste of everything. This included ‘Chana Chatpatey’ (puffed rice and vegetables), Pani Puri (pastry balls and potato salad), Shyerpa Salad, Pukka Pakoras (coconut and chickpea fritters, and a special sauce), and finally,  Aloo Achar with Bara (lentil fritters and potato salad). Each segment of the platter tasted delicious with powerful tastes coming from surprising places. YakBites also offers a variety of workshops on how to make the food of Nepal, information for this can be found on their website/Facebook.

 Well fed and ready for some music, hosts Wallee McDonnell and DJ Ritu welcomed in the evening, whilst speaking a little of the forthcoming acts. Walllee is essentially a third of the ‘Celebrate Life’ group that hosts evenings of arts/music and aims to combine the arts with meaningful messages. DJ Ritu is a renowned radio presenter, among a multitude of other things, from ‘A World In London’ which has over 200 episodes and catalogues a who’s who of the world music scene. 

 The first act of the evening was ‘Merlyn Driver’ who is a singer songwriter from the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland, although currently based in London. Merlyn was joined on stage for backing vocals by Anna Merryfield. Although describing growing up in the remote parts of Scotland and his inspiration from Scottish Folk music, Merlyn has a deceivingly British accent. Both sat down, Merlyn started his set. The first song by Merlyn was an original entitled ‘Rain’. With just an acoustic guitar and the odd fluttering vocal harmony from Anna, Merlyn managed to silence a room with his poetic lyrics and sombre guitar. Clearly folk in genre, two of the songs Merlyn played; ‘Rain’ and ‘The Descent’ were tasters from his upcoming EP ‘This is the Corner of a Larger Field’, which will be launched in late May. Merlyn mentioned that the performance was the first time he was hearing his guitar aloud due to using new guitar pick up. The guitar sounded beautiful, being a player myself, I had to ask; the pick up was the ‘L.R Braggs M1 Active’ pick-up (and it sounded fab). Together the two also played a cover of Anais Mitchell's 'Young Man in America’, suiting Merlyns velvety vocals with Anna’s almost harrowingly beautiful harmonies.

The second act followed shortly, however in between acts DJ Ritu treated our ears to some desert blues and Nepalese folk music, ensuring tapping feet continued between acts.

Kadialy Kouyate came alone onto the stage holding the beautiful west African instrument that is the Kora. Kadialy was born into one of the greatest most renowned Griot families in Southern Senegal; the Kouyate family. Kadialy helped to continue the family