Without wishing to detract in the slightest from this wonderful event in a very deserving cause, a few preliminary observations are nonetheless in order here.
The Tabernacle is basically a wonderful venue but suffers from a few fundamental problems. For a start, location - sadly, it is somewhat out of the way, hidden away in a leafy square in the northern part of Notting Hill, even if within five minute's walk of the nearest tube station (when the tube is running, which it currently isn't although a good bus replacement service is available). Outside its immediate area, and to some extent outside London's wider Afro-Caribbean community, it appears relatively little known, which really is a shame. The Tabernacle certainly deserves being far more widely known. Another problem, as I see it, is the theatre's seating. I would estimate current capacity at about a hundred to a hundred and twenty, maybe. This could easily be near doubled by doing away with the unnecessarily large tables in the stalls and replacing them with conventional seating, and installing more seating on the balcony. More BOSs (bums-on-seats) - more revenue, better pay for artists, therefore also ability to attract better-known acts on special occasions.
Then, there was the problem of the PA equipment on the night. Rather flimsy-looking mic stands and booms that kept sliding down and had to be constantly re-adjusted during performances simply don't give a professional impression and really just don't cut it. This was further made worse by sub-standard sound engineering - the volume was almost invariably far too loud, resulting in poor sound quality, and the sound engineer furthermore didn't seem to know when to kill a connection for guitars, resulting in an explosion-like noise every time a guitar
was unplugged or plugged in. I'm sorry, but this sort of thing also simply won't do, and although the PA and sound engineer may well not have been provided by the venue, it still reflects upon them, and certainly upon the promoters.
The Tabernacle's lighting rigs seem well provided, which makes it all the more a shame they weren't made better use of on the night. Back projection computer presentations really are distracting more than anything and certainly don't enhance performances in any way, shape or form. Especially not when poorly executed.
Still on the subject of light, if obliquely, the venue really ought to impose and strictly enforce a ban on all flash photography. It is distracting and annoying, and wholly unnecessary. The stage lighting levels, although not the very brightest, were wholly adequate to achieve good exposures with most up-to-date high end digital cameras, and flash - where it is sufficiently powerful to affect the exposure in the first place - only serves to destroy the atmosphere. Personally, in all my years as a professional photographer, I have only used (powerful) flash on less than a handful of occasions when covering gigs, and then 'bounced' off a low, light-coloured ceiling in conditions where a reasonable exposure would otherwise have been impossible. Also, moving close to the stage to make photographs is wholly unnecessary in a venue such as this, where far better results could be had with medium / medium long lenses, especially from the balcony, without disturbing or annoying anyone else.
An alternative course of action would be for The Tabernacle to enforce a blanket ban on photography, and issue permits to press and other professional photographers (and perhaps dedicated, professional
standard amateurs) only.
Just a couple or so more slight niggles - a delay of nearly an hour to the scheduled 8pm start of the show in a venue whose license limits performances to 10.30pm is very bad news indeed.
Also, some of the performers were part of a band (or normally have backing bands). In the ordinary course of events, one really would have expected the whole band to take part. However, this was a charity event put together at very short notice, where the logistics of staging several bands made this practically impossible. Hence, this was perfectly understandable. However, the 'solo' context was not always easy (some artists also used backing tracks) and some worked better than others. But this is fully understandable and certainly forgivable under the circumstances.
What I find less understandable perhaps is the promoters' half-price ticket offer for pre-bookings and arrivals at the door before 7pm. For a charity event, especially with such a relatively low price to begin with, this really won't do I'm afraid. With the perhaps fifty to sixty strong crowd that eventually turned up, how much could this have raised? Even at full price (a mere tenner)? However, at least the good intention was there.
Finally, especially given the late start and a time-constricted venue, MC Fred E. Kwafo took up far too much time (besides perhaps being not the most eloquent of presenters) at the start of the show. One might also find cause to disagree with some of his ramblings. I for one certainly do. Unlike Kwafo, I am rather more cynical where things like Live Aid and 'Saint Bob' Geldof are concerned. Geldof, at the time of Band Aid and Live Aid, was a two-hit wonder with a severely flagging career, and hit upon a way of massively reviving his fortunes. Kwafo, methinks, rather put the cart before the horse here in stating that Geldof was rewarded for doing good in the first place. And that's not even taking into account the extremely patronising and offensive lyrics of Geldof/Ure's original Feed The World ditty. ('Do they know it's Christmas time' my **** - no, of course not, and moreover 'they' couldn't give a hoot!) And just how effective Geldof's aid effort was has started to come to light in recent years, much going straight into the hands of para-military organisations, fuelling conflicts in East Africa. No, sorry, I don't buy the 'Saint This' or 'Saint That' nonsense. Indeed, I take a very jaundiced view of all these self-appointed pop saints and messiahs. So I really don't see why so much time had to wasted on this in Kwafo's preamble.
And so at long last, let's get to the 'beef' - the wonderful show itself that was Artists For East African Famine Relief ! Anybody who would claim they didn't get their money's worth at this show has to be either sad, mad, or bad, or all three. (They shoot horses, don't they?) Considering all the constraints, not least also the very short time in which this show was put together, it was brilliant! Yes, perhaps not perfect, but nonetheless, brilliant.
Opening Artists For East African Famine Relief was jazzy singer-songwriter Anoushka Lucas, a Londoner of Cameroonian and French descent. Accompanying herself on guitar, Ms. Lucas presented a song from her EP. Undoubtedly, she is very much a talent to look out for.
One of the real show-stealers with a highly professional yet refreshingly simple presentation, Mosi Conde gave a solo performance singing the title song of his current superb album (released last year), Kaira Kora Afrika, accompanying himself on his kora with breathtaking virtuosity. The title, meaning 'Happy Days in Africa,' may have seemed somewhat incongruous in the setting, but the performance was thoroughly uplifting, a real treat of glory.
All good things seem to come in... well, multiples. Zim (Zimbabwean) singer and multi-instrumentalist Torera (aka Torera "Mutinhimbira" Mpedzisi) had you on the edge of your seat with his amazing, heart-stopping mbira ('thumb piano') accompaniment and soloing. He more than amply demonstrated why he is so highly regarded in Zim circles. I think the word has to be, simply, wow! This was mbira as you don't often hear it. Not nearly often enough, anyway.
How Dare I was performance poet Poppy Seed's well-delivered contribution to the evening's proceedings, using a recorded backing track. (And although generally I am not keen on these, it worked and worked well.) Thought-provoking as well as moving, Poppy's unique genre is a blend of performance poetry, jazz, and more and is deserving of a much wider audience.
The show-stopper of the night proved to be the one and only Alexander D Great, indisputably Britain's (of Trinidadian origin) finest calypsonian and a seasoned pro, very much in a traditional Trini mould. The reigning Calypso Monarch, Alexander was accompanied only by co-writer panwoman Debra Romain on pan and her pre-recorded backing vocals, both of which were simply exquisite. Unusual, but it worked superbly well! Naturally enough, we were presented with the calypso Alexander D Great will be defending his title with very shortly, Trials Of A Pan Woman. Suffice to say here that this is a superb, and superbly crafted, song, very much 'old school' and with more than a touch of the 'Grandmaster' Lord Kitchener himself, a kind of tribute to Kitch. And also just absolutely made for pan of course! One couldn't help one's eyes going moist and yearning for the tents, and the Savannah and Dimanche Gras! Alexander is probably the only calypsonian not living at least part-time in Trinidad and Tobago who is of true Trini kaiso (calypso) standard and who could compete in the Trinidad Calypso Monarch competition. And his current offering is a real killer!
Alexander D Great (aka Alexander De Great) had also brought along a special edition single CD of Trials Of A Pan Woman for the occasion which was on sale exclusively on the night, with half the price also going to UNICEF, the charity in support of which the event was staged.
Normally performing as part of a trio as Ruby And The Vines, singer and bassist Binisa Bonner not only had a very tough act to follow but faced the additional difficulty of accompanying herself only on electric bass guitar, without any other backing. (And if you think that's not a problem, you really haven't got a clue!) However, Ms. Bonner absolved herself well on both counts. Her style usually consists of a fusion of rock, Congolese roots music, jazz, Afrobeat and reggae. With just the bass, this was almost impossible to bring across successfully, but if you used your imagination a bit, it was all there!
Veteran Root Jackson, accompanied by his guitarist and his hand drum, often considered the Godfather of Brit-funk, demonstrated that his music is still as fresh, funky, and effervescent as it was in the 1970s.
Modeste Hugues, or simply Modeste, presented his very personal brand of world music deeply rooted in his Malagassi roots, accompanying himself on guitar. Definitely another artist with great 'wow' factor, it was easy to see why Modeste has already won several awards and is hugely popular at festivals including Womad. The only UK based artist to be handled by Sterns, he already has two albums under his belt and is in the process of finishing his third. Yet another sterling performance.
Glaswegian born Londoner Bumi Thomas is another singer who's delightfully difficult to pin down to a particular 'genre.' For convenience sake lets say, jazzy soul/Afro folk, with a lot of other influences. Her performance was an equal delight that definitely makes one want to hear more!
Another female singer singer hard to pin down 'genre'-wise proved to be Phoenix Martins. A very, very promising talent worth looking out for!
Guitarist Zak Sikobe first became well known to UK audiences as a member of Nsimba Foggis and Taxi Pata Pata. This Saturday night he treated us to his inimitable, scintillating guitar style, solo. A real delight.
All in all, Artists For East African Famine Relief proved to be a highly enjoyable and delightful event filled with performances that ranged from the delightful to the sheer brilliant. And apart from providing excellent performances in their own right, all the gorgeous young lady singers also added some delightful glamour.
Congratulations are due WOM@TT for putting together such a wonderful show in such a short time. As this was planned to be only Part 1 of Artists For East African Famine Relief, they are to be wished well for the next installment. Dare one hope for a larger, more central venue, with other well-known artists from the whole musical spectrum? Perhaps an event stretching over a couple of days, raising lots of funds? Whatever the end result, all the very best to WOM@TT for Artists For East African Famine Relief Part 2 !
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