Review: Simo Lagnawi & the Gnawa Blues All-Stars + Krar Collective @ Rich Mix (London/ 4th April 2015)

You think you’ve finally become used to every face and sound of Africa when it amazes you yet again! On this occasion it was the Rich Mix stage hosting an event presented by two agencies, Focus Organisation and Kazum! to promote the finest sounds from the African continent. They brought together two exciting projects that represent the North Africa, whilst simultaneously mirroring the eclecticism of the London cultural scene.

Krar Collective and Simo Lagnawi & Gnawa Blues All-Stars are indeed two ensembles rooted in their native musical traditions. Coming from Ethiopia and Morocco, they spread the culture of their countries in new and innovative ways.

But that’s not all. As the two acts are based in London they also enrich and excite the city’s musical panorama with remarkable shows. Just imagine what they can do when they go on stage in quick succession: they simply bang it!

It was Simo Lagnawi & Gnawa Blues All-Stars that led the dancing with their original Moroccan gnawa style. They thrilled everyone with their insistent, ceaseless sound and motion, electrifying their fans through the redemption of the African hymns and delighting them with the unadulterated sounds of the Sahel. The strikingly pure musicianship of the performers ranged from the guembri mastery of Simo Lagnawi to the percussive talent of Alai Sanfo from Burkina Faso, entrancing the audience and creating a remarkable starter for the event.

Then it was the turn of Krar Collective to complete the work begun by Simo and his band. The Ethiopian ensemble, which like Gnawa Blues All-Stars is a sincere interpreter of its native tradition, magnified the sounds coming from the Horn of Africa for more than an hour and left Rich Mix breathless. The band used the distinctive krar (six-stringed lyre) as a trademark feature and employed the animated rhythms of kebero percussion alongside the outstanding expressiveness of Genet Assefa. This trio transformed the act into a sextet for the occasion thanks to three remarkable brass players who joined them, engaging the spectators with their distinguished musical style and motivating them to move their feet. What with repeated costume changes, frantic tempos and stage invasions from dancing members of the audience Krar Collective went out in style, instilling the African bug in people, even if they’d never been there – but who may feel inspired to do so after that incredible show.