After fifteen years of festival events on the shores of Lake Malawi, one of Africa’s most exciting arts and music festivals came to the UK for two stand alone shows in London and Glasgow this March. The evening event at Glasgow’s School of Art on Sunday 11th March promised to be an eclectic, high energy billing of some truly outstanding African acts such as the joyful young six-piece Zathu, making their UK debut here; the soulful, soaring and powerful Wezi and the erudite, highly danceable M.anifest alongside music and poetry from Scottish Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison and artsy, punchy Neu! Reekie! poet Michael Pedersen.
The stand out act of the night for me was easily Faith Mussa, whose one-man act blending loop pedals, traditional Malawian instruments such as the nemba, a drum machine and haunting vocals was mesmerising. Bathed in orange spotlights, Mussa’s introspective guitar doodling and light up blue drumsticks were a true pleasure to watch and kept the crowd captivated throughout.
But for all the evening’s promise and moments of utter joyfulness, something about the end of the show fell a little flat for me. I can see exactly how this evening would work in theory, weaving together African and UK performances onto one exciting and diverse bill. But it was difficult to shake the feeling that there was something a little jarring about the headline slot of the evening show, when Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison took to the stage with an acoustic guitar accompanied by Pedersen, and the pair alternated between music and poetry. This was a vibe which was seemingly felt, too, by some members of the crowd, which thinned after Ghanian rapper and poet M.anifest left both the stage and an ecstatic audience who danced in unison to his clever wordplay and eclectic backing musicians. “This part of the show might seem a bit depressing”, Hutchison deadpanned, “but there’s not much I can do about that”. I’d be interested to learn the reasons behind putting Hutchison and the seething Pedersen on together as the headline slots, when I think they would probably agree themselves that it felt like a bit of an odd move. Both are good acts in their own right – Pedersen, in particular, I thought was very powerful. Both engaged the crowd that were there to see them, but from where I was standing there was definitely a sense that this was really two different shows. I would have liked to have seen them weaved more seamlessly into the rest of the bill, or for there to be a little more dialogue between the seemingly distinct two halves of the show giving a much-needed sense of these eclectic performances complementing and bouncing off one another.
Photo courtesy of Kat Gollock.
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