Brixton has been known as the cultural home of Caribbean diasporic music since the years of the Windrush, but this one-day festival, held in Brockwell Park, has certainly ear-marked the growing popularity in the nu jazz movements that have infected the London music scene, as well as the growing popularity in urban soul.
Nu jazz is a term coined to describe the fusion of jazz with less traditional styles, such as funk, electro and hip-hop. Bands such as Kokoroko and Nubya Garcia have really helped to pioneer this style in London, as the popular consensus confirms that these various mutations of jazz are strongly welcomed. Furthermore, with the likes of streaming series such as Colors, and with R&B and hip-hop taking over from rock as the most popular genre in America in 2017, sub-genres have felt the push of popularity also, with trap and urban soul taking a step into the bright limelight.
A one-day festival needs to be worth it, and I think that Cross The Tracks managed a really successful first year, catering for what felt like a higher standard of music appreciation, showcasing some unknown names, up-and-coming artists, as well as the draw of megastars. As well as this, they hosted talks under a gazebo, with straw stacks to listen on. I made it to a talk about sound systems with the legendary Mikey Dread from Channel One Soundsystem British Jamaican sound system, who, whilst interviewed, told stories of their first parties and explained how the “corporations” won’t understand what a real sound system is – “ever”.
Besides this, the festival offered catering from tons of local food stalls and street food vendors, and finally, a vinyl records fair for enthusiasts to delve into.
The stages felt well mapped from one another, not too far to walk, with no sound leakage from other stages. My favourite stage was the Freight Stage, which I first passed as Lava La Rue was performing. I stopped and took in her lyrical dexterity, enjoying every song, and enjoying the intimate feeling of the stage.
I then checked out the Ghost Notes’ stage and found great hilarity in overhearing a poor soul expecting “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag” from a re-invented Eliza, who left behind the happy-go-lucky pop vibes when she dropped the ‘Doolittle’ for an urban soul aesthetic. She instead performed tracks from her new provocative album, A Real Romantic.
Next, I circled around to the City Splash stage to catch the obligatory Dawn Penn performing her timeless hits. As always, a Penn performance attracted all the mega fans, as I heard a sing along to her more obscure B-side tracks, such as “When I’m Gonna Be Free”. It always feels as if the whole festival is in one place when that characteristic tell-tale bass line drops, and Dawn Penn echoes the three words we all want to hear…. “No No No”.
Aside from catching another act on the Freight Stage – Oscar Jerome, who charmed crowds with his soulful, funky guitar licks – the rest of my time was spent at the main stage.
I was impressed with Masego, who brought his ever-popular trap-house-jazz to the stage; a genre that makes a lot of sense to me – combining feel-good elements of all three genres into one catchy, melodic but urban-sounding jazz with his classics.
I was dubious to leave early, as I sensed oncoming carnage as the entire festival would attempt to leave through one exit, down one road, to one tube. However, I was caught and captured by the irresistible sing-alongs and insane vocal range of the living legend, Chaka Khan. Sure enough, I jigged along with every other person at the festival to “I’m Every Woman”, which felt like something of a celebratory feminist anthem.
My only criticism would be that the main stage sound drifted too far in many places in the audience, making it hard to hear critical vocals at times.
However, there was amazing energy, nice crowds and a really beautifully curated line-up that represented (hopefully) a long and prosperous trend in upcoming thought-provoking fusion music – I look forward to next year, now assuming that Cross The Tracks will be the pioneering festival in this music scene.
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