Osibisa, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Wednesday 03 March 2010
Although the general consensus is that Osibisa did World music before World music, this firecracker of a gig makes another, more important point. The band founded in London by Ghanaian multi-instrumentalist Teddy Osei some four decades ago was part of a rich crop of late 60s combos that collapsed the boundaries between African music, funk, rock and jazz, so inventively that the resulting "fusion" could sound remarkably different from one track to the next. Comprising horns, percussion, electric rhythm section and lead vocals supplied by various members, Osibisa have a rich, rotund groove that, when galvanised by Wendell Richardson's growling lead guitar, loosely recalls the Chicano blues of Santana, no more so than on "Sunshine Day", whose joyous chorus is taken up by the whole audience straight from the downbeat. Elsewhere, the lithe, fluid hi-life pulse of West Africa is liberally deployed to inject an entirely different energy and the skipping, vaulting rhythms that mark the middle of the set prove an invitation to dance that even those suffering from mid-winter lethargy can't resist.
Given their far-reaching history, Osibisa have a vast repertoire at their disposal and tunes such as "The Dawn", "Woyaya" and "Fire" draw an immediately hot response from a crowd that largely has silvery temples to match those of their heroes. As with their American and British peers, such as War and Cymande, Osibisa extensively use gospelish chants, and the nine-voice assault becomes a rousingly funky hallelujah.
Real moments of magic, though, come in the breakdowns of tracks like "Music for Gong Gong", where horns, keys, guitar and bass drop out and djembes take over to make the beat muscular before further layers of percussion are activated like carefully synchronised dials in a clock. Metal cowbells, often whirling in a sexy 6/8 meter, sharpen the tonal canvas while leader Osei, a charismatic and avuncular figure, smacks congas with long drumsticks that create potently resonant timbres. With expert precision the band toys with the beat and the polyrhythmic trickery induces hypnosis before the horns kick back in and the energy is deflected on to a different sonic pathway. Fittingly, Osei reminds us that instrumental tracks like "Gong Gong" were actually top 10 pop hits back in the Seventies. How times have changed.
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