It was a cold, wet night and not really the weather to get you into the African mood but, as I arrived at the Komedia, the warm-up DJ was spinning out some fine tunes. The venue quickly filled up with people and the intoxicating grooves got people dancing or swaying to the music. So by the time African Head Charge took to the stage the place was rammed and everyone was nicely warmed up.
The band got the night rolling with an instrumental track before the charismatic singer Bonjo Iyabhinghi Noah joined them onstage and the party really began as they launched into ‘Off The Beaten Track’ swiftly followed by the classic song ‘Dervish Chant’.
I first was introduced to the band over 20 years ago when I was played their Songs of Praise album by a friend and I’ve been meaning to see them live ever since but have never made it happen till tonight. They have a reputation for being great live and tonight was just as I had imagined it should be. Pounding bass reverberating round the room vibrating very inch of your body with the bright stabs of the electric guitar cutting through over the top. With the intertwining rhythms of the kit drums and percussion along with just the right amount of keyboard sound effects on top. All the perfect backdrop for Bonjo’s laid back vocals.
The music slowly ramped up throughout the night with a well-paced set of a few upbeat songs followed by a rest-bite slower track that ensured the crowd had the energy to keep going right to the end. With tracks like ‘Drumming Is A Language’ that really let the percussionists shine and ‘Brother Of Reality’ soaked in rich synth sounds there was plenty of diversity and every member of the band got their chance to shine.
In between each song Noah would scream out “Yer man” and the crowd responded likewise. The visuals were top notch too, with the band on stage mainly lit by brightly coloured spotlights coming in from the sides and just the right amount of smoke to give it atmosphere without being distracting. On all the Komedia’s TV screens around the room were different videos playing for each song. For most of the songs these were in back and white, which worked really well against the bright colourful stage lighting. The visuals could be anything from loops of dancers, old public domain footage, street parties, fire breathers or demonstrations. These we overlaid with fractals and kaleidoscope effects which, when they were in colour, were very psychedelic. With ‘You Learn’ really bringing the most out of the visuals in full glorious technicolour, strobing lights and pumping beats.
The soundman, VJ and lighting guy behind the desk at the back were all dancing just as hard as the audience the whole night long and I think it’s part of the magic of the band. Everyone seems to be having fun with the music and that is infectious.
Obviously when the band went off stage everyone wanted more and they came back for the required encore but, when they did, it was like they had turned everything up to 11! Squeezing the last bit of energy out of the crowd before they left. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get round to seeing them live and, at the end of the night, all I wanted to do was find out where they were playing next and do it all over again.