Review: Late at the Library – Ghana Beats @ British Library (London, 12th February 2016)

With its West Africa exhibition in its final days, a sold out British Library welcomed London’s Afrobeat aficionados in a toast to Ghana Beats: an effervescent night of music, culture and food.

Following last October’s well-received Felabration!, an expectant congregation braved a chilly February night to be plunged into the Sub-Saharan celebration of Ghana Beats at the British Library. With African food and drink aplenty, the crowd was energised from the get-go by Yaaba Funk and their contagious mix of guitar, vocals, percussion and brass. With their own brand of Ghanaian-inspired afrobeat, you could not find better barnstorming icebreakers than from this Brixton band.

Whilst stating semi-incredulously how they’ve come “From Brixton to the British Library”, they were nonetheless at home as they brought a bonanza to the bookshelves. Their infectious highlife-led dance grooves included ‘Ghana A to Z’, ‘Political War’, and particular highlights came in the fantastically groovy ‘Poor Mans Tale’ and the slow-burning ‘Kalabule Man’. With the funkalicious frontpeople of Richmond Kessie and Helen McDonald impressively in sync with each other as well as the band, the joyous performance demonstrated a textbook balance of showmanship and instrumentation. Like the performers’ hips, Yaaba Funk’s songs twisted and turned in a performance oozing Anglo-Ghanaian vitality.

With the crowd more than warmed, a full live set by the renowned Ghanaian duo Fokn Bois followed Brixton’s finest funksters. Known for their coupling of politically charged and seriously irreverent lyrics on afro reggae and hip hop beats, the duo of Wanlov the Kubolor and M3NSA moved the night in a different, muted direction. With tunes touching on widespread homophobia in Ghana, the underrepresentation of women in West Africa, as well as the role of America as the world’s police force, these laidback and interesting personalities provided Ghana Beats with a curious yet monotonous second half.

Interspersed with indulgently informal chitchat, the simple keyboard work and guitar riffs were married with amusing lyrics at times. However, with the only half-finished ‘Thank God We’re Not a Nigerians’ and the wavering attention of the crowd, the informal atmosphere rarely paid off in a performance that lasted half an hour too long.

Nonetheless, with dynamism returning to the night thanks to the tasty Afro-drops of Volta45, Ghana Beats demonstrated the variety of Ghanaian talent, now infused in beats across the world. The night was missing the power couplings to send it into hyperdrive, but that by no means meant it wasn’t a charming bibliographic bash.

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