|Bukky Leo and Black Egypt transport a rapt Trafalgar Square crowd - out of cold, rainy London and straight into the heat of|
Fela Kuti's Shrine, in the Kalakuta Republic, Lagos, Nigeria. For half and hour. And then the rain came down.
There are many such events on this square, always free, of course, and always endorsed by the Mayor of London. They include Chinese New Year, the Russian spring lenten festival, Maslenitsa, Diwali and so on. They are generally heavily sponsored by big corporate interests and the Tourism ministries of relevant countries, and often as a result a bit bland and worthy. Plus the square itself always struck me as one of the bleakest and least encouraging of communal meeting places of any major city I've ever visited.
But remember we now have a new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. This event is part of the annual educational exercise, Black History Month. It does have a big sponsor - Air France, but the media sponsor is The Voice newspaper. And if anyone can transform an awkward, grey, ex-triumphalist colonial space into something good, it must surely be Africans.
And by god they did, from the bright colours of the different stalls and pop-up stands selling food, fashion, artefacts, books etc - to the non-stop upbeat patter from the two main presenters on stage. And one super-brilliant DJ. Read on...
So, having arranged to go to the Picasso exhibition at the NPG, we encounter the Square already bustling with people, and with some high-energy South African music echoing off the facades of the old colonial offices all around.
We stay in the square, and watch
We tear ourselves away from this, head to the NPG, even though the sun is shining. Inside there's a big queue for Picasso, so we head for another exhibition, across Covent Garden to Somerset House to see photos by the late Malick Sidibé of nightlife and beach-life in his native Mali. All the photos are black and white and taken on a Kodak Brownie 127 camera with flash gun, and they are superb, evening blown up to a metre square or more. It's a small show and unmissable for the absolute elegance and beauty of the people he cpaptures, their innocence and eloquence of movement, in the matter of body language and facial expression.
This small, unforgettable exhibition has an audio dimension as well, thanks to a background soundtrack of African music contemporary to the photos - that is to say, mainly 1960s, 70s and a bit of 80s.
It's gorgeous music, mixed up with ambient sounds from parties and streetlife of Bamako. This mixtape was produced by the DJ Rita Ray.
By 4pm I am back in the square and there is amazing music coming over the PA. The DJ is Rita Ray. The crowd is dancing, and it keeps on dancing through the three final bands of the day. And dancing even more when Rita Ray ends the whole thing with some astonishing mix-ups or mash-ups of god knows what dub and Afrobeat and tribal chanting and desert blues and who knows what else, but so expertly blended that the sound seems to make the ground slide beneath your feet.
Then the Algerian musician Seddick Zebiri comes on with his band Seeds of
|The amazing Algerian master musician Seddick Zebiri with his band, Seeds|
of Creation, bring a unique brand of North African funk to the Square.
Certainly won't argue with this band's top-class renditions of a string of Fela classics, Zombie, Water Get No Enemy, Coffin for Head of State....the voice and the sax are so good, the band is great, even though much smaller than the full Egypt 80 or whatever band Fela had at the time. You could almost imagne the iron hand of Fela himself leading the tight, deadly accurate and beautifully-rehearsed ensemble playing. Trafalgar Square has surely never before resounded to such a fabulous onslaught of music straight out of the Kalakuta Republic. Love!