sun 24/10/2021

Balimaya Project, Colectiva, Milton Court review - Africa and Latin Jazz re-invented | reviews, news & interviews

Balimaya Project, Colectiva, Milton Court review - Africa and Latin Jazz re-invented

Balimaya Project, Colectiva, Milton Court review - Africa and Latin Jazz re-invented

Double bill at the Barbican scores two hits

16-piece Balimaya Project

40 or so years on from the first wave of London gigs by musicians from West Africa – many of them at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden – London’s connection with the music of Senegal, Mali and the Gambia has taken a new and exciting turn.

The Balimaya Project, a 16-piece band which is taking the UK by storm, is led by percussionist Yahael Camara Onono a second-generation Londoner from the African diaspora. As well as creating a contagiously energetic and joyful sound, this is a music with a mission as well as a message.

The great Africanist Robert Farris Thompson, author of "The Flash of the Spirit" (1983), an immensely influential book that explored the sophisticated aesthetic and ethical principles of African culture, would stress the way in which music in the Yoruba, ki-Kongo and Mandé traditions, among others, could not be disassociated from matters of right living: forms such as call and response, the intricacies and interactions inherent in multidimensional polyrhythms and structures that highlighted exchange and community rather than the foregrounding of star soloist performers. "Balimaya" means "kinship" in the Maninka language, and the band that has taken this name is driven by visceral spirit and a sense of collective celebration and values that create music designed to connect people, as well as the musicians and their audience.

It’s not surprising that The Balimaya Project have created such a buzz. Saturday night’s concert was sold out to a palpably excited crowd, not least as so many in the audience have not heard live music for a long while. Driven by the irrepressible power of no less than five percussionists, and a perfectly synched horn section, they pack a punch that produces breath-taking music and instant joy. The set starts with two talking drums, with their subtly varied pitch, articulating phrases that speak very expressively without words – mimicking human speech, with a range of pacing and inflection. They are joined by an equally eloquent dundun, and then congas, and finally the band’s musical director on djembe. When the brass section come in, adding to the intricate layering of polyrhythms, along with kora, balafon and guitars, the sound explodes. This is London in 2021, with a generation of second-generation diaspora musicians who have turned to their African roots rather than follow the omnipresent siren call of rap. The thrill of a 16-piece orchestra, nourished by jazz as well as other strains of African-inflected music, evokes in a thoroughly contemporary way what the Count Basie Band must have sounded like in the 1930s – music that takes the body by storm and fills it with energy and healing power.

The sound was at times so dense that the individual elements became imperceptible – but every time, the mostly young musicians, charismatically led by Camara Onono, settled into a groove, feeding off each other in a multifaceted conversation that included the audience and filled the hall with something well beyond mere performance.

The other band on the bill were equally skilled and captivating: Colectiva (pictured above) are a six-piece band from Brighton, all of them women, some with roots in Latin America. The band was founded by Viva Msimang, whose charm and passion as she introduces the songs are contagious They play Latin Jazz, though the label hardly does justice to the richness of their power-packed collective passion, fuelled as it is by making a potent statement about the sisterhood and the spiritual power of music.  The pleasure which the members of Colectiva take in playing together is tangible, with that sense of mutual respect and shared delight that is so essential to all African-inspired music, in this case further lightened by Latina humour and energy. Sax and flute player Allexa Nava , who had come in as a last-minute substitute, offered a rip-roaring and perfectly constructed solo. Bass-player Alley Lloyd drove the band’s infectious rhythm with both tact and force, in perfect synergy with the remarkable drummer Lya Guerreo who near-miraculously managed to make her kit sound like a pair of timbales, congas, and a whole array of other Latin percussion instruments, all on her own.

As bands start to play live again, after a long period of serious difficulty, the excitement of their return to the stage is palpable. These two bands, however, would shine at any time. Both Colectiva and The Balimaya Project, surfing on the particular wave of youthful energy are re-inventing and cross-breeding genres in the most creative way. They both have a message, but wear it lightly.  Look out for them: they are not top acts yet, but they deserve to be.

They are not top acts yet, but they deserve to be

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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