Event Review: Africa Express – The Circus @ The Big Top (London; Friday 29th March 2019)

Blur-Rokia-Traoré-and-London-Community-Gospel-Choir-perform-at-Africa-Express-The-Circus-as-part-of-Waltham-Forest-London-Borough-of-Culture-2019.-Photo-by-Stars-Redmond

 If you have attended any of the previous Africa Express shows, you know they never disappoint your thirst for music. For hours and hours, they stun you with a deluge of quality acts and unexpected collaborations, not only featuring the exceptional artistry of the musicians involved but also their welcoming and open-minded attitude.

The latest chapter of the story, titled The Circus, went on scene in London on 29th March (the date when the UK should have left the EU) to celebrate Waltham Forest and its appointment as Borough of Culture 2019, and to exorcise the Brexit ghost. As happened with its predecessors, Africa Express: The Circus was another triumph of African-scented notes, featuring dozens of artists coming from all over the world only to be part of the Africa Express musical feast and show that an inclusive and welcoming world is possible.

Dobet Gnahore performs at Africa Express: The Circus as part of Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019. Photo by Brendan Bell

Under the circus-like big top, set up in Leytonstone for the occasion, Leyton born-and-bred Damon Albarn and his stage partners offered a quite unique experience to the 3000-strong audience. It was an experience that maybe was imperfect and at times looking and sounding cobbled together, but still impressive considering the monumental lineup and level of interaction among the protagonists.

For example, you could be moved by Tunisian singer Mounir Troudi and his Sufi-inspired vocalises, elevating themselves over banging electro arrangements played by Django Django, and a moment later, you found yourself dancing to the warm Afro-pop rhythms played by Dobet Gnahoré. Or you could be soothed by Krar Collective’s Ethio-funk, then suddenly start head-banging to Slaves’ frantic beats.

Krar Collective perform at Africa Express: The Circus as part of Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019. Photo by Brendan Bell

Africa Express: The Circus was indeed a medley of topical moments and highlights, from a rough version of “Guns of Brixton”, enriched by no less than Paul Simonon and his bass, to a dancy Afro-Luso cover of “Psycho Killer” performed by Batida, and from a momentous “Clouds Over Dover” with Blur in full force supported by the London Community Gospel Choir, to an all-female and all-star rendition of Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Felt To Be Free” sung by Rokia Traore, Joan As Policewoman, Ellie Rowsell (from Wolf Alice) and Dobet Gnahoré and enriched by the likes of Tony Allen on the drums.

It goes without saying that you can’t make sense of such a huge and all-encompassing show, you can’t ask for perfection on and backstage, and you can’t even pretend to keep track of every single artist performing; all you need to do is lose yourself in the music, acknowledging the almost superhuman organisational effort made by everyone involved.

Rokia Traoré, Joan As Policewoman, Dobet Gnahore and Ellie Rowsell (Wolf Alice) perform at Africa Express: The Circus as part of Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019. Photo by Brendan Bell

And so, the audience did for 5 hours straight, without a pause (even the incessant set changes were carried out in a twinkling), applauding and fully enjoying every single and one-off song. No matter if they were free-spirited and carefree-sounding (as happened when The Turbans were on stage), soulful and emotional (Georgia), or dancy and energetic (Onipa), every tune on the set list was an essential ingredient, integral to the Africa Express all-embracing cauldron. Because music sounds better if shared.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen and Kaladjula Band perform at Africa Express: The Circus as part of Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019. Photo by Brendan Bell

Events By These Artists

Date Event name Artist City/Town Venue
30 Jul ONIPA + PENYA + DOWDELIN ONIPA London The Jazz Cafe

Content Related To These Artists

Podcast: Rhythm Passport on Air w/ Pedro Coquenão – Batida (June 2019)

Here’s a brand new episode of our Rhythm Passport On Air podcast in collaboration with SOAS Radio. This month, we reached Pedro Coquenão, also known as Batida, by phone in Lisbon, and we had an intense and interesting chat about several topics. From his recent participation in Africa Express: The…

Artists: Batida

London Gig Guide (April 2019)

At times, we are the first to lose track of how many exciting music events happen in London each month, so we have decided to offer you some sort of “public musical service”, meant for all the locals and passers-by, with the aim of suggesting where to listen to some…

Artists: Awalé , Brother Culture , Calibro 35 , Gerald Toto , Hailu Mergia , Horseman , K.o.g And The Zongo Brigade , Kokoko! , Koral Society , Krar Collective , Lafawndah , Midori Takada , Oumou Sangare , Prince Fatty , Psychedelia , Que Vola? , Soom T , Steam Down , Terakaft , The Heliocentrics , The West African Blue Project , Yelfris Valdes

Event Review: London Remixed Festival 2019 @ Rich Mix (London; Saturday 2nd February 2019)

At Rich Mix, you are welcomed with warm and friendly hospitality by smiling staff, that it truly resonates throughout the evening, and throughout the venue. Saturday evening at the London Remixed Festival was no exception. The main room, Tropicarnival, (curated by the legendary Wormfood! and Movimientos), was fittingly decked with…

Artists: Animanz , Gypsy Disco , Henge , Malphino , ONIPA , Sam and the Whomp

Event Review: Africa Now @ OGR (Turin, Italy; Saturday 22nd September to Thursday 18th October 2018)

In recent years, Turin has gained quite a reputation in the music world for its electronic/dance-oriented scene, being the host city of Italy’s largest electronic music festival, Club to Club. Nevertheless, the city has much more to offer, with new upcoming events and festivals popping up year after year. One of them is…

Artists: Amadou & Mariam , Bombino , Jeff Mills , Tony Allen

Album Review: Dobet Gnahoré – Miziki [Wagram Music; May 2018]

Having been raised in an environment where performing arts and African traditions were paramount, Ivorian vocalist Dobet Gnahoré has always had great artistic confidence and a strong sense of self. Her fifth album, entitled Miziki after the Bété word for music, is a true reflection of that assurance and traditional…

Artists: Dobet Gnahore

Gallery: Ealing Jazz Festival @ Walpole Park (London; Saturday 28th July 2018)

We’re guilty of rarely venturing too far west in London, but when we do we always live our days up, attending outstanding events and enjoying every minute of it. The 2018 edition of Ealing Jazz Festival was no exception. Despite the blustery weather blowing sand all over Walpole Park and…

Artists: Let Drum Beat , Tony Allen , Vels Trio , Zara Mcfarlane

Event Review: Love Supreme Festival @ Glynde Place (Glynde, East Sussex; Friday 29th June to Sunday 1st July 2018)

Set in the heart of the Sussex Downs, Love Supreme Festival returned for its 6th year of spreading the gospel of jazz, blues and soul to some 40,000 music lovers. Unless you were the man who told me, bizarrely, that he “doesn’t like virtuosity in music”, you were going to…

Artists: Beat Replacement , Brand New Heavies , Earth Wind & Fire , Elvis Costello , Ezra Collective , Lalah Hathaway , Level 42 , Mavis Staples , MF Robots , Moses Boyd , Nubya Garcia , Steve Winwood , Tony Allen

Event Review: Tony Allen & Amp Fiddler @ Ghost Notes (London; Thursday 10th May 2018)

Opening the evening was Mogadisco’s finest selection of African beats, thus setting the scene for the proceeding collusion of cross-border musicians. The left of the stage was set for a legendary Nigerian afro-beat drummer operating with Tony Allen’s full drum kit, whilst the symmetrical spotlight to the right shone upon…

Artists: Amp Fiddler , Mogadisco , Tony Allen

Album Review: Tony Allen – The Source [Blue Note Records]

Hot on the heels of his highly acclaimed EP, A Tribute To Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers, drumming legend Tony Allen returns with his wonderfully crafted jazz LP, The Source. Having never truly explored the genre before, Allen has married jazz with his first love, afrobeat, the results of…

Artists: Tony Allen

Review: Jazz Re:Found (Turin, Italy – 7th to 11h December 2016)

Today, black music is warmth, experimentation, crossbreeding, avant-garde, tradition, and rhythm. Turin’s Jazz Re:Found festival explores these definitions, with a curious and forward thinking vision on music, honouring great names of the past while looking at the most current scenes with a sharp eye and sensitive ear. Spread across seven…

Artists: Dj Khalab , Gilles Peterson , Gogo Penguin , Grandmaster Flash , Tony Allen , Underground Resistance , Yussef Kamaal

Album Review: Konono No.1 meets Batida [Crammed Discs, March 2016]

The group Konono No.1 and Angola-born, Lisbon-raised, artist Batida, have teamed up and released Konono No.1 meets Batida, an album that is both thought-provoking and also an enjoyable listen. The songs are engaging medleys of electronic instrumentation, along with sounds such as the thumb piano, that we assume that the Congolese listeners would already…

Artists: Batida , Konono N1

Review: Late at the Library – Felabration! @ British Library (London, 16th October 2015)

It’s not every day that you witness one of the most famous libraries in the UK (and one of the most important cultural centres in London) being transformed into the Shrine, the mythical Lagos club from which the legendary figure of Fela Kuti emerged in the late 1970s – yet…

Artists: 2face Idibia , African Boy , Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra , Laura Mvula , Shingai Shoniwa , Terry Walker , Tony Allen

Review: Simo Lagnawi & the Gnawa Blues All-Stars + Krar Collective @ Rich Mix (London/ 4th April 2015)

You think you’ve finally become used to every face and sound of Africa when it amazes you yet again! On this occasion it was the Rich Mix stage hosting an event presented by two agencies, Focus Organisation and Kazum! to promote the finest sounds from the African continent. They brought…

Artists: Krar Collective , Simo Lagnawi And The Gnawa Blues All Stars

Review: BalkanBeats London @ The New Empowering Church (London, 21st June 2014)

More than sure hits, BalkanBeats nights are smash hits. They lure dozen of Balkan rhythms enthusiasts and they never do no wrong. You already know, when you buy your ticket, that you are going to dance all night long, until the daybreak. And if you add to this with such…

Artists: Into The Moon , The Turbans



There are no comments

Add yours

Get an exclusive FREE compilation album each month compiled by us
Just sign up to our FREE monthly newsletter
Your e-mail address will not be passed on to anyone!
Never display this again