Event Review: BCUC @ Jam Jar
(Bristol; Wednesday, 13th March 2023)

Words and Photos by Ursula Billington

Bristol’s premier world music venue, Jam Jar, has witnessed many vibrant acts since it opened its doors in 2014. Yet, on this damp Wednesday evening in March, there’s an electric atmosphere in the air: BCUC‘s reputation as “a mind-blowing tsunami of soul and sound” clearly precedes them.

Some of tonight’s crowd were probably here in May 2023, the last time Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness graced the venue for a two-night stint. Bristol’s support for the Afro-psychedelic powerhouse from Soweto has long exceeded the venue’s 250-some capacity, and they’ve returned for another sold-out run.

Each night promises an intimate, sweat-inducing encounter with a band that can charm a room, dial up the intensity to fever pitch, and then release it to ascend in uninhibited abandon by the close of their first song.

As the septet steps onto the stage, the anticipation is palpable, the audience teetering on the edge. A delay tail rings out over the pin-drop silence, and frontman Nkosi “Jovi” Zithulele dives right in.

The opener “The Woods,” the lead track from their 2023 album Millions of Us, wraps the silent crowd in sweet, seductive female vocals, foretelling the night’s experience with the line: “You can’t stop this train…” Then Jovi commands “BASS,” and a deep, funky groove joins the conga beats, the pent-up energy in the room becoming tangible.

The rhythm accelerates and the room ignites. The audience doesn’t need any encouragement; they’re ready to be whipped into a frenzy, and a single shout from Jovi has them whooping and leaping.

The second song takes off at 180bpm—if anyone had a moment to breathe, they’d wonder how much higher the night could go.

The answer is “Isivunguvungu,” shifting gears with a catchy R&B hook from BCUC’s sole female member, Kgomotso Mokone, before it plunges headfirst into disco, led by the bassist.

Fifteen minutes in, BCUC’s formidable percussive power has the venue shaking. The band’s cries mirror those from the crowd, fists raised high. It’s the intensity that the audience resonates with, absorbing the fierce defiance emanating from the stage and transforming it into sheer joy.

BCUC churns through one blistering anthem after another, the band members grunting, growling, and shrieking by turns. The rhythmic vocals ricochet across the stage; the bassist pushes the groove to the brink of insanity.

Only when the crowd is wholly in their grip do they pause to dedicate a “beautiful song” to the audience: “When you feel life has been too much, never give up—you fight. Life doesn’t owe us anything. We’re lucky to be alive.

The sentiment is one of gratitude, but the audience is restless during this drop in tempo. They came to dance and are eager to resume; the spell is slightly broken.

But the payoff is substantial. Tired of preaching, the band demands a return to “your music,” launching into a chant even more intense than before, to the crowd’s wild delight.

A heartfelt performance of their latest single, “Nthuthwane,” provides a welcome, necessary shift in tempo, prompting a knowing laugh from the bohemian Bristol crowd as they’re playfully dubbed “beautiful capitalists.”

Aside from these moments, BCUC serves up over an hour of non-stop percussion-driven revelry, which the audience devours with gusto. A moment of genuine concern crosses the frontman’s face, breaking character in a performance that, while raw, is expertly honed to near perfection—a testament to BCUC’s more than two decades in the business—when he realises, “What to do? Only 5 minutes left, and this last song is 15 minutes long!” To his surprise, the crowd responds with heartfelt boos.

But there’s no need for concern—this train is unstoppable. They resort to an age-old tactic, having the crowd crouch for a buildup to a frantic drum climax for one last frenetic dance. The electronica aficionados go wild: this is psytrance-speed stuff.

The night ends on a high with the echoes of KRS-One‘s “Sound of da Police” and chants of “There ain’t no party like a Jam Jar party,” wrapping up the evening with an unexpected teenage-disco vibe. But by now, BCUC can do no wrong, and if this night is just the warm-up, the Jam Jar is lucky to remain standing by Thursday’s end.

Best day of work ever,” remarks a bartender. With the caliber of acts this stage has seen, that’s the only endorsement you need.