The African Soul Rebels tour has become a fixture in the music calendar. Since Music Beyond Mainstream began curating the shows in 2005 – mixing breaking acts (Tinariwen and Amadou & Mariam) with established stars (Salif Keita, Rachid Taha) from across Africa in a three-for-one price-buster. And as the tour wends its way to The Roundhouse and a full house, this year's rebels proved one of its strongest line-ups.
The heavy-hitters include Baaba Maal, fresh from travelling the Africa Express with the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Franz Ferdinand. His last stand-alone concerts here were spectacular multi-dimensional shows which included West African artist El Anatsui making a tapestry of golden bottletops on stage with a crew of dancers, actors, singers and musicians.
Travelling again with his acoustic band, and in the process of recording his first album in seven years, Baaba Maal was positioned between the stirring rock'n'benga assault of Extra Golden – a fascinating marriage of Kenyan pop and American indie that was formed in Nairobi in 2004, and counts among its earliest fans one Barack Obama – and the renowned Zimbabwean star, Oliver Mtukudzi.
Along with Thomas Mapfumo, Mtukudzi AKA "Tuku" stands as one of the great pillars of Zimbabwean and Southern African music. Extra Golden opened, with a powerful mix of western Indie rock and Kenyan benga pop. Fronted by the energising young benga star Bilongo, with two guitarists from Washington and powered by the remarkable drumming of Onyango Wuod Omari, their sound was heavy and precise.
Baaba Maal's expansive acoustic band groups around the often exquisitely simple acoustic guitar figures of Mama Gaye that seemed to ripple back and forth while the "Golden Voice" lapped and eddied around it. His longtime friend, Griot singer Mansour Seck, helps build up those spiralling vocal harmonies.
Then came Mtukudzi, commanding the stage with his voice and guitar. "We come from Zimbabwe where music is like food," he raps to the pulse of Charles Chipanga's marimba. And peeling off another energy-jolting chord sequence, Tuku's Black Spirits wind up and show us how it's done.
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