West Africa’s vocal powerhouse presides over cheerfully thunderous global gathering
There was an impressive rapport between English performers and those from a Mumbai slum
World music On Mass with Angélique Kidjo Roundhouse, London
In terms of sheer spectacle alone, this was an extraordinary concert. Massed across three stages for the finale were 180 young artists, ranging from circus performers carrying flaming torches to beatboxers and rappers, the 42-piece Roundhouse Choir, the London carnival group Kinetika Bloco playing drums, steel pans and brass, pupils from a local school, and performers from India, Brazil, Palestine, the Faroe Islands and Scotland.
At the front, leading them through an upbeat new song of hers, was the West African Grammy-winning singer Angélique Kidjo. A Unicef goodwill ambassador, honoured by Amnesty for her human rights work, Kidjo has both the vocal power and personality to dominate this cheerfully thunderous gathering.
The On Mass project involves a difficult balance. In part it’s a showcase and cultural exchange programme for young performers, and in part it’s a concert by a celebrity who also collaborates with them (the first such show, two years ago, featured Jamie Cullum). Those expecting more than six songs from Kidjo may have been disappointed, but it was the new artists who provided many of the high points in an impressively slick event.
It opened with a song from Kidjo, accompanied only by her guitarist Dominic James, for a treatment of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come that was more strident and less soulful than the original. Dancers, circus performers, drummers, rappers and beatboxers then came on to the stage for an impressive display of rapport between English performers and those from Dharavi, the massive slum area in Mumbai. There was fine harmony work from the Roundhouse Choir, helped by beatboxers for a reworking of Björk’s Hyperballad, and brooding effects from the Audio Collective backed a solo dance piece by Palestinian Marah Ashmar. It was entitled Absent, because the partner she was supposed to be working with had been refused a visa.
Kidjo began the second half with Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, enlivened by enthusiastic backing from the choir. She moved on to her own material, including the singalong favourite Kelele, but sounded most passionate breaking off to discuss the importance of this event and music’s capacity to bring people together, adding that “talking about Brexit is nonsense”. For the encore she led the full cast through Curtis Mayfield’s rousing anthem to youth and optimism, Move on Up.
Passionate … Angélique Kidjo Photograph: Gary Miller/Getty Images