On a 2 day stop-over in London on my way back from the USA, I stumbled upon a post advertising that The Jazz Cafe in London was to host Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra during my stay. I didnt hesitate in buying my tickets and decided to go regardless of whether anyone was to join me or not.
I made sure I arrived before 11.30pm despite knowing that the show will not be starting before midnight to avoid getting stuck in a queue out in the cold like my last and only visit to The Jazz Cafe almost 2 years ago. Thankfully admission was relatively smooth, and I was quickly inside. The Jazz Cafe interior had undergone a few changes since my last visit – the bar was notably a bit smaller and to one side instead of taking up most of the back section.
I managed to find a good spot at the front and waited for the gig to start, drink in hand. Just a little after midnight, Dele’s musicians took to the stage, finalised their setups, tuned their instruments and BAM – the sound of Afrobeat quickly took over. I must say that I hadnt been incredibly familiar with much of Dele’s music, however I had heard a few songs and in contacting Dele before the perfomance via instagram learnt that they were to be performing their rendition of Fela Kuti’s Zombie during their set and that for me was a a massive cherry on top of an already delicious cake.
Dele Sosimi is a Nigerian musician currently residing in the UK who was once a member of Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 and has also performed with Fela’s son – Femi Kuti. His performance featured him playing the keyboard as well as singing lead vocals and was accompanied by a 15 piece orchestra which included a horn section, guitars, bass, drums, percussion and 2 female backing vocalists – trombonist also did occasional backing vocals too. Their performance spanned out for 3 hours straight, keeping the vibe and energy going with the funky rhythm of Nigerian Afrobeat and the crowd on their feet. The Jazz Cafe was packed and dancing was hard with people in such close proximity to each other and with many trying to get to different parts of the hall but it was difficult not to dance and not even worth trying. Looking back Im quite surprised that the Nigerian diaspora was not heavily in attendance especially since there is a large Nigerian community in the UK and more specifically in London.
Dele’s songs featured everything one grew to expect from Afrobeat; a trance inducing rhythm, pidgin english lyrics, call and response vocals, funky guitar, and counter melodies and stabs from the horn section. Songs like “You No Fit Touch Am”, “Sanctuary”, “E Go Betta” and “Too Much Information” amongst many others would stretch out for several minutes decorated with trumpet, saxophone or keyboard solos and the audience was mesmerised and in full swing. The music was so engulfing I didnt seem to mind much that I was there on my own.
Dele has such amazing stage presence and his constant interaction with audience members had him developing a strong bond with the attendees. He would often make interesting facial expressions at those he made eye contact with or give out a random high five or fist pump enhancing the experience for those at the front.
At 3 am sharp, the set came to a close and despite the fact that the numbers in attendance had gone down slightly, many were still grooving along to the final notes of the orchestra’s live performance. Dele made an announcement that a special release of Fela’s music had been released, curated by Erykah Badu and was now available for sale. Rikki Stein – Fela Kuti’s manager was also in attendance at The Jazz Cafe and I managed to strike up a little extra energy to wait til the end to say hello to both Mr Stein and Dele as well as to steal a sneaky selfie!
Quite the top night and a highlight of my entire 2 week trip hands-down. It felt great to finally have attended a live performance of genuine Afrobeat music and one can only imagine what it would have felt like to have been at the Afrika Shrine during a live night with Fela. Looking forward to more in the future!
If you are not familiar with Dele Sosimi’s music, here are a few links to help introduce you to the man keeping the Afrobeat flag flying high in the UK music scene.