From soaring horn sections, via Malian blues and a hearty dose ofsouthern American soul, through to a roaring standing ovation, this “chop up” showcase of artists signed to Honest Jons Records – and some friends – was an evening toremember.
The label was set up in 2001 by the record shop of the samename, in conjunction with Damon Albarn. Their first release was entitledMali Music, a project headed by Albarn, and upon which several of theartists on tonight’s bill collaborated.
The stage was draped with the flags of nationalities that were to beperforming, and highlighted the range of musical styles to which we wereto be treated. The Malian flag was centre stage, naturally.
Theevening’s festivities opened with all of the musicians coming onto thestage – where they stayed, in their respective positions. This made thetransitions between the eight different artists and bands very quick andefficient, but it can’t have done much for the performers themselves.Kudos is due in particular to one member of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemblewho sported a sousaphone all night.
Talking of which, their songSankofa, performed with Tony Allen, with its pulsing brassy beat, wasparticularly good. Later on in the evening, they played an equallyexuberant cover of Rabbit Hop by Moondog, which was originally recordedin 1955.
When Kokanko Sata moved to the front of the stage, she played athree-stringed hunters’ harp – the kamelen n’goni, accompanied only byher deep, throaty voice. Her self-titled album (recorded under a mangotree over six days, in continuous takes, no less) includes a full band,and features the distinctive sound of the balafon. On a fewoccasions the rhythm got the better ofher, and she spontaneously started dancing during other people’s songs,to the audience’s delight. Her second performance was a duet with Alpha’Pedro’ Sankare, performing The Djembe, a track from Mali Music.
Candi Staton, fresh from Glastonbury, was a real treat. She filledthe auditorium with her voice during the classic, I’m Just a Prisonerand also performed a new song on the stage for the first time: Who’sHurting Now. Following Staton’s first performance was Toumani Diabat, amaster of the kora: a 21-string harp unique to West Africa. Given therichness of the sound being produced, it was difficult to reconcile thatjust one person was creating it.
Simone White and Victoria Williams,both American singer-songwriters, brought something alittle different to the proceedings. White managed to hold her own, withthe quirky Bunny In A Bunny Suit, but Williams seemed to struggleslightly. Her solo performances on an acoustic guitar were eminentlylistenable, but it probably didn’t help that she immediately followedraucous numbers on both occasions that she played.
The fusion of African music and American blues as performed by LobiTraor was, to quote the young people of today, pretty ‘far out’. He andhis band performed their allocated two songs in one big, gloriouscontinuation. One of the guitarists was particularly adept at playinghis guitar at first over the back of his head, and shortly thereafter,on his back, with his legs kicking frantically in the air.
It wasn’tdifficult to get caught up in their enthusiasm, especially during the last song of the evening, Sunset Coming On,also from Mali Music, which Albarn sang along with Staton. It abruptlyshifted from a fairly downtempo number into a fast-paced dance, and thehitherto slightly reserved audience responded enthusiastically, cheeringand clapping ever faster.
Albarn conducted his assembled group ofmusicians to a rousing finish, rounding off two hours of fantastic,eclectic music. Delving into the back catalogue of Honest Jons is veryhighly recommended.