Monday, 28 July 2008

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble at the ICA.

Apologies for going awol...sometimes you have to do things so you have something to blog about.

Tuesday was the moment I've been waiting for on many levels for a long time and I wasn't disappointed. I've never been to a gig at the ICA before, only screenings, so I wasn't quite's basically a black box slightly below ground level with no air con or ventilation, sold out way past capacity and the first really hot day of summer outside. We made our way to the front and I decided the only thing to do was submerge myself in the heat, own my sweat and get high on the lack of oxygen...I feel sorry for anyone in the relatively polite crowd around me. Normally when you see a show there's an element of build up. Not so with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. I don't know if it was the anticipation, the heat, or the band but from the get go I was enraptured. I didn't have to wait long for the song that feels like it's a really important part of me, Sankofa...the drums that open it feel at once as though they are calling an army, awakening the ancestors and pounding on your soul; within seconds we new it was coming and we clutched arms and shoulders and shot demonic grins at each other. I lost it. I find myself connecting with their music not so much on aural but soulful and spiritual planes, and I listen to them almost every day. I realise they're American but they really bring out the African in me, and as I listen I'm Fela, Salif Keita, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela's daughter.

Hypnotic really know how to put on a show - if you see them on the street you just don't imagine that they are spectacularly tight jazz musicians, sons of the Arkestra's Phil Cohran. I just read a slightly snotty review of the gig in the Guardian which gave the show 3 stars (did they watch it on Youtube instead of going?) and seemed disappointed about the lack of free jazzing. I don't believe they chose their name by accident - the repetitive nature of much black dance music does have an entrancing effect, and those boys were there to party, not stroke their beards. We were at the ICA so the crowd was very different to when I saw them open for Mos Def (so funny when one yelled "it's sold out like a motherfuuugh [tails off mid curse as he notices what the crowd looks like] here!") but they still had us all go down to the floor with them, they called and we responded (apart from when they asked the single ladies to scream and there were about 4 squeaks - all of the other women had been brought by their music nerd boyfriends).

My personal highlights were when they covered The Big Payback, (badman faces all round), their songs Sankofa and Balicky Bon, and when they asked for the house lights to be turned off and we danced in the light from mobile phones. If you've ever been to Plastic People and danced to that sound system you get a small sense of what happened. Multiply it by 8 brass instruments & a drummer all playing something intense and mesmerising, hundreds of sweaty bodies and no oxygen. You get more of a sense of what happened if you've had an orgasm in the dark. Sorry to take it there but I'm trying to take you there.

The show closed on War. I found myself pumping my fist in the air and marching, sending the reverberations through the floor to my sister in South America and my father in the ether, hoping they could share and march with me.

Here's Mushallah, from their New York City Live Album (yes, I bought it) just for you.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, if anyone's in the New York area beginning in August, Fela Kuti's life is coming to Off-Broadway in Fela! A New Musical. You can get $25 tickets if you visit and use code Social1



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