30 June 2012 (gig)
04 July 2012
In terms of pure entertainment, there is no more vibrant and welcoming a place to be as London right now. Perhaps it’s Olympic fever hitting our urban Jerusalem, or perhaps it’s the beginning of a season celebrating life and love. Either way, we are spoilt for choice; and this sentiment was all the more poignant with the arrival of the annual Back2Black Festival.
Eloquently-positioned (at the Old Billingsgate Market) and within view both of Tower Bridge and the almost-completed Shard Building, this three-day celebration of Afro-Brazilian music and culture was well-placed, given that the subsequent Olympic Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro. Organised jointly by the Barbican and Brazilian creatives Canivello, this promised to be a real taste for the spirit and senses.
Running daily between the 29th and 1st July, the afternoons at the B2B Festival were all about cigarettes on the River Terrace, browsing the African market-stalls and indulging in delicious food, while the evenings are about shaking your nether regions to some soul-moving sounds.
Arriving at the impressive Old Billingsgate Market, my first impression was the size of the space; or lack of it. The festival was packed into a relatively small concert hall, which fed out on to an elegant roof terrace. As I walked through, I could hear remixes of soul-greats such as Sam Cooke. It wasn’t the most eloquently-decorated venue, nor was there an over-riding sense of Africa or Brazil in the hall. But this, I felt, wasn’t the point. This wasn’t meant to be some fancy, aesthetic music event; rather it was about bringing together intellectuals, musicians and free-spirits in one place to celebrate common humanity. It was also about creating awareness of real-world events.
Friday performances by legendary Macy Gray and Brazilian rapper Marcelo D2, the Saturday was kicked off by Malian singer and guitarist Fatoumata Diawara, who no doubt electrified the crowd with her soulful, husky tone.
In the afternoon, when the market-sellers had packed up for the day, it was the turn of Jamaican-born Brit Roots Manuva to entertain people with his reggae-swagger, while in the evening the crowd were treated to a rare duet between Brazilian superstar Criolo and Ethiopian jazz-genius Mulatu Astatke.
‘Performance of the Day’ went to Femi Kuti and the Positive Force. The Nigerian singer and composer wowed the crowd with an eclectic, colourful performance. His fabulous dancers are a must-see; you couldn’t help swaying and jigging along as they moved every part of their body to the rhythm. Like Criolo, Kuti’s passion for human rights and politics feeds into his music. Though much of it was in Nigerian, I had a friend on-hand to advise that despite the upbeat, celebratory tune of Femi Kuti’s music, he was actually singing about serious issues as such as corruption and social inequality. I wasn’t the only one blown away; you could barely move for people jostling to get to the stage.
So the Saturday of Back2Black went down with a bang (and a little shake too). Whether or not the musical style was to everyone’s taste, I doubt a single person didn’t leave feeling invigorated and inspired.
My only disappointment was that the festival had to end.