Photography: Glyn Akroyd

Extra Soul Perception

Africa Oyé and Kitchen Street @ 24 Kitchen Street 24/2/20

Extra Soul Perception is the name of an album released in 1969 by saxophonist Monk Higgins, whose multi-genre career spanned the gamut of jazz, soul, funk, blues and RnB and who lent his horn sound to artists such as Etta James, Muddy Waters and the Chi-Lites. A current crop of young soul artists have taken the name of his album as the moniker for their own collaborative project .

Their promo blurb cites “The power of multi-national collaboration” – nothing new in this, as Higgins, Ry Cooder (albums with V.M. Bhatt and Ali Farke Toure), Jah Wobble (Chinese Dub, etc), amongst many others can testify, but interesting to see what a new generation from the current soul scenes of the UK and East Africa come up with at this Africa Oyé/Kitchen Street promotion.

It’s a cold night, it’s a Monday night, and Kitchen Street is all but empty when I arrive shortly before the advertised KO. But no one seems too worried and contemporary soul beats fill the air. Half an hour later, and the room is packed with an almost universally youthful audience who waste no time in hitting the dancefloor and herald the arrival to the stage of beatmeister MAXWELL OWIN and rapper LEX AMOR. Owin’s basslines literally shake the foundations, but Amor’s delivery has a confident, Kate Tempest-like intensity that can’t be overshadowed, her flow half-spoken half-sung, as she details the “concrete knows my name” urban realities of South London.

Extra Soul Perception Image 2

Next up is singer and orutu player LABDI, hailing from Kenya. The orutu is a single-stringed violin and traditionally the preserve of male players. Labdi is cited as the only female player of the instrument in East Africa. Her opening instrumental lament is unmistakably African but has the universally keening air of lonely balladeers the world over. A couple of over-chatty audience members cause her to request “some quiet, because my instrument has a soul and feeds off you”. Her wish is granted and she proceeds with her sweet, short set, the simplicity of the music and purity of voice leaving the crowd entranced.

Before long Owin is back on the decks, accompanied by K15 on keys, and featuring Nairobi-based vocalist KARUN. Her blend of hip hop and contemporary RnB takes the tempo up as the dancefloor resounds to some heavy beats. LYNDA DAWN keeps things alive, the crowd clapping and dancing along to her velvet tones which evoke RANDY CRAWFORD over some funky basslines and jazzy keys, Owin moving behind the decks with a huge grin on his face. K15 nips across the floor to the DJ decks, harboured within a fenced off area left of stage. Performers and crowd alike are grooving to his sounds and the evening takes on the feel of a club party rather than a gig. But before long it’s back to the live action as K15 and Owin back the vocals of Dawn, Amor, Karun and Labdi who blend a mix of classic girl group harmonies, gospel, hip hop and African vocals which provides a highlight of the evening. The beats have the Kitchen Street crowd on their toes and it will be interesting to see how this translates to record (an album is due out in April of this year).

FAIZEL MOSTRIXX and HIBOTEP complete the ESP line-up, taking turns on the decks. Mostrixx, complete with elaborate, multi-pyramid headgear, adds an electronic edge to his Afrobeat grooves and Hibotep takes us into techno and UK funky territory before slipping back to more African influenced percussive vibe. All the artists are onstage partying and the crowd reaction ensures that there’s no ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ blues in this room.

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