Kent, and Honest Jon’s Chop Up

Saturday was some kind of big day.

We hit the road with our houseguests and drove down to Kent. Our destination was The Three Chimneys in Biddenden, a pub of some acclaim. It was certainly was very nice, but unfortuantely we’d only gotten through our starters when their power went completely out and they weren’t able to make the rest of or meal. We boogied back to the George & Dragon in Headcorn to complete our lunch. On our way back to London we stopped off at Leeds Castle, a pretty impressive place with some large and interesting grounds. Our mission to deliver an English country-side day-trip for our Amerian visitors was a success.

We weren’t back in London for long, though, before we had to head to the Barbican Hall for a special musical event: Honest Jon’s Chop Up. Honest Jons is a music shop in Ladbroke Grove that’s always specialised in funk, reggae, R&B, and – lately- African music. In 2002 Honest Jon’s created a label to release some of the music they thought was important. Mali Music, an album of collaboration with Blur/Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn and several west-African musicians, was the first release on that label but there have been many since, covering Afrobeat, R&B, folk and more. Last night’s event at the Barbican was a combined live performance from many of those artists.

There were some impressive names on stage: soul singer Candi Staton; Albarn with his cohorts from his The Good The Bad & The Queen Project, afrobeat legend Tony Allen and Verve bassist Simon Tong; kora player Toumani Diabaté, singer and kamelen n’goni player Kokanko Sata Doumbia; guitarist Afel Bocoum; ‘Bambara bluesman’ Lobi Traoré and his band; the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; and folk singers Simone White and Victoria Williams.

We got there a bit late and missed the start and walked in on a music-fest well underway. Rather than feature the artists in turn, it was a mass event: almost all of them (about 25 people) were on the stage all the time, with several sitting in and out at each song. They’d go into a wonderful west African groove highlighted by Diabaté’s incredible mastery of the kora, and segue into a blues jam with Traoré on electric guitar (which would invariably make Doumbia get up and dance). Albarn would throw in some keyboard, or just bop along at the back. Candi Staton belted out a tune or two. The Brass Ensemble danced the whole night and added some great horns to nearly every song. Even when White and Williams, gentle women in whispy frocks singing equally gentle songs, took the stage they’d be accompanied by some drums.

The official show lasted less than 90 minutes (and we saw less than that), but it was a really joyous, loose, fun jam. I could roll out clichés about music in some cultures being more about shared event and storytelling than about performance. But it’ll be enough to just say that it was a living example of rhythm and joy: everyone on stage had a brilliant time, and even a reserved, seated Barbican audience was convinced to get up and dance for the last song.

Afterwards in the lobby some of Honest Jon’s shop DJs spun some R&B and dub in the bar/lobby area, followed quickly by Traoré’s blues band doing an extra set for those who wanted to continue dancing. Liberated from our numbered aisles and seats, many of us did.

Photo from aurélien. via Creative Commons license