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

The Guardian - - JOURNAL | THE CRITICS - Robin Denselow

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

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