Review: Criolo + Baloji @ Koko (London, 24th April 2016)

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It was billed as one of the highlights of 2016’s La Linea Festival, but Criolo and Baloji gig at Koko went above and beyond all expectations. The event was the unequivocal proof that hip-hop has a thousand faces, and the remarkable ability to adapt and absorb different cultures to spread its messages.

Despite the vast majority of the audience that had packed out the Camden venue being South American and there to celebrate the Brazilian music ‘hero’ Criolo, the Belgian artist with Congolese origins, Baloji, received a very warm welcome, one which he more than paid back.

The rapper, singer/songwriter and dancer showed-off all of his talents and exposed the artistic abundance of his native country. He fused Congolese traditional styles, using hip-hop rhymes as adhesive, he introduced the crowd to his latest work ’64 Bits & Malachite’ and had over 1000 people dancing to Central African rumba and soukous rhythmic patterns. Finally, he gave the audience some food for thought with a simple but meaningful message: that it doesn’t matter how you define his music because, “That’s not world music, it’s our music!”. Baloji’s performance, which lasted for little less than an hour, was a show within a show and to define him as simply an ‘opening act’ would be a disservice.

It’s also true that Criolo was, without a doubt, the main attraction of the evening. He practically played at home, with Portuguese-speaking fans singing in unison to every tune from the first to the last verse. Jumping on stage with a summery vibe, wearing a t-shirt, Bermuda shorts and bringing with him plenty of energy. The opening guitar riff to ‘Convoque Seu Buda’ excited the crowd in a heartbeat, but then it was an easy victory for the Sao Paulo MC. Between significant lyrical moments like the impassioned rendition of ‘Não Existe Amor em SP’ and fighting talk like the tirade launched against Brazilian politicians, Criolo easily demonstrated why he’s arguably the most significant voice in today Brazilian music.

He has built his solid reputation through a ten-year high-standing career and his fans, next to knowing by heart his latest hits like ‘Cartão de Visita’ and ‘Pegue Pra Ela’, are still fond of his 2006 debut ‘Ainda Ha Tiempo’. That’s why Criolo gigs swiftly turn into tributes to his artistry and why the London stopover of his U.K. tour, was another triumph of a striking rapper and his skilled stage-partners.

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