- The Soul Rays
- Brave Mnyay
- Street Rat
AmityMalawi was founded by Geoff Skelhorn and Malawian-born Anna Cooke in order to support communities in Malawi through grassroots projects, utilising traditional craft skills. Tonight’s entertainment has been organised in response to January’s floods which devastated much of this already desperately poor country.
The walls of the Observatory are adorned with Malawian flags and chitengi, the beautifully printed traditional wrap worn by Malawian women and modelled tonight, with the addition only of a little body paint, by two lithe and beautiful dancers. Traditional craftware is for sale, and a healthy number of people are in attendance early on as DJ Gwynz sets the scene with some vibrant Afrobeat and highlife. Rayface enhances the mood, delicately applying face paint to performers and audience alike, and Geoff introduces the first act of the evening.
STREET RAT, a huge star and bandleader in Malawi, has recently launched himself as a UK-based solo artist. He sits, arms cradling an acoustic guitar, and begins to pick at the strings, singing low and pure, as he quickly builds up an insistent, joyful rhythm. The crowd are immediately engaged and songs such as Rain In The Clouds and Keta invoke the vibrancy and hardship of Malawian streetlife. With brief but heartfelt monologues between songs, a balance between the joyful abandon of song and dance and the serious purpose underlying the event is struck. Street Rat underlines his versatility, finishing his set with a dynamically delivered traditional blues number entitled Love Is The Key.
Next on is the nattily attired BRAVE MNYAY (blood red shorts-suit, a-la Pharrell at the Grammys), whose mix of Jamaican dancehall and Afrobeat has the now sizeable crowd dancing and singing along. Mnyay is a dynamic MC, short bursts of rapid-fire vocal, delivered over DJ Gwynz’s percussive beats, alternating with dance and sing exhortations to the crowd. The set builds to a rousing finale with the crowd only too happy to join in the “1-2-3-hop” dance routine.
Next, HAZEL MAK takes to the stage, flanked by the aforementioned dancers, and delivers a short, sharp set of disco, pop and afro. She has a rich, soulful delivery and shows off some sassy dance moves but, singing over backing tapes, there is something of the (admittedly high-class) karaoke performance here and the audience dwindle a little, seeking the refuge of the bar.
Geoff then introduces a short film illustrating the devastation wrought by the flooding, and it is a measure of the support AmityMalawi have garnered that the adjacent bar empties and the performance area is full of watchful sympathisers. If a slightly drawn-out (but highly successful) raffle keeps us from the dancefloor for too long, we are soon back with a bang, or rather, with a low-down and dirty slice of funk in the shape of THE SOUL RAYS.
This is the funk of the southern states, of Stax and Muscle Shoals, of Ike and Tina, Dr John and Booker T; a gumbo of soul, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and gospel bubbling over a rock-solid rhythm, laced with the spiciest of horn sections and a dash of ska/reggae. Up front are three soul sisters: Fabia, Madalina and Nina take it in turn to deliver alternately soulful and raunchy vocals, clearly delighting in each other’s talents and moving non-stop to the slinky, funky rhythms, searing guitar solos, swirling keyboard and punchy brass. A joyful reggae-infused version of Maxine Nightingale’s Right Back Where We Started From varies the tempo nicely and their set is too soon at an end. The crowd want the party to continue and Geoff requests some “sick Afrobeat” from DJ Gwynz; he is only too happy to oblige.
The evening’s togetherness is illustrated throughout by the artists’ support of one another: all of them can be seen dancing in the crowd when not performing themselves. AmityMalawi has been so much more than just another fundraising event – it’s been about solidarity.