The London Afrobeat Collective @ Old Market Assembly
The 9-piece collective hopped onstage, tuning and testing their respective instruments just after 10.30pm, in front of gaudy red curtains. The lead singer wore an electrifying, tight, shiny suit and stood with her back to the crowd in a performative stance, as the opening song began to crescendo through the packed venue. A funky, eclectic, gorgeous mish-mash of sounds and voices followed.
The collective made use of traditional techniques, alternating between vocal and clapping call and response, both with the audience and with each other. But as the gig went on it become obvious that this collective are anything but traditional, they are a self-proclaimed mix of Afro Funk, Jazz, Dub and Rock. ‘Power to the Woman’ was a highlight - reminiscent of 90s Riot Grrl Rock in its speed and volume, with added funky jazz. The influence of Frank Zappa shone through too. Most of the tunes from their new album Humans are lyrically socially conscious, adhering to the Afrobeat genre, reaching a height in the melodic speaking interlude in ‘Prime Conscious’.
Their dynamic was unbelievable; their pauses were clean and smooth without even needing to look at each other. I say pauses because they never really stopped — they played nonstop for 40 minutes before any of them took a water break. Throughout these forty minutes the music was continuous, even in lulls there was sustained drumming or guitar chords. The night progressed quickly, under the sway of hypnotic and liberating grooves.
A sunglass-clad sax player whipped the crowd into ecstasy with a long and boisterous solo, finishing by holding his last note for well over a minute. Admiring grins came from both the audience and within the band, they weren’t too stoically ‘cool’ to hide their joy and celebration of individual members’ talents. There were two notable trumpet solos too - the brass instruments were the jewels of the collective and I found my eyes returning to them unconsciously.
The collective transition into a slower, more continuous tempo in the last half an hour, winding down but still keeping energy very high as Juanita Euka sang coyly ‘who wants to get funky’. Multiple musicians closed their eyes to focus on their playing and singing, the sweat and concentration visible on their faces. The outro was astonishing and lengthy but never boring - the collective just didn’t want to stop playing and the audience didn’t want them to either. There was a kind of vibrant happiness infused into the music. As I finally left the humid room, the windows glistened with foggy condensation, the sign of a brilliant gig.
Photography by Tom Smith.