Jumoké Fashola and Guests
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 3rd February 2013. Review by Matthew Wright)
Jumoké Fashola, the award-winning radio presenter,has established a reputation as a powerful singer of blues and jazz with a Nigerian flavour. With a theme of life stories, she and special guest, Nigerian rapper MC Breis seduced the Pizza Express audience with a evening of jazz ballad, blues and banter.
After her trio’s instrumental introduction, crackling with funky rhythm, Fashola made an imposing entrance, shimmering in a long, golden silk jacket with misty blue turban. She dominated the stage visually as well as musically with sets that combined the standards of Cole Porter and Nina Simone with African repertoire like the Tanzanian love song ‘Malaika’ (Mother Africa).
Her voice, at its most expressive in the low and middle register, oozed passion and melancholy. Racial identity and autobiography merged with love and betrayal as central themes, in both the standards, like Simone’s ‘Four Women’, and the African repertoire, in an original piece of fusion programming.
The band adapted well to the constantly changing musical context, and was joined for some songs by Richard Baker on talking drum, a small drum held under one arm, which wailed and yelled, its tone changing dramatically as it was squeezed. Its juicy sound was surprisingly voice-like, and it added authentic colour and atmosphere.
Later in the first set Fashola invited Nigerian rapper MC Breis to the stage. He continued the autobiographical theme with touching and thoughtful lyrics about the identity conflicts of growing up as a Nigerian in the UK. He’s a stylish and skilful wordsmith, his message of self-determination and self-belief more life-affirming than the ear-popping cynicism of US rappers, and a great example to any young audience. Breis often performs in schools, and one of his name’s many anagrams is ‘big rappers educate intelligent students’.
Breis and Fashola combined at the end for a rambunctious rendition of ‘For My People’. The passion of their performance overcame any slight incongruity of genre, and the song buzzed with a sense of cultural dialogue.
Fashola managed the evening with great humour and aplomb, interspersing songs with feisty anecdotes, slightly in the manner of Ian Shaw. There was also an interactive activity in which the audience replied to musical questions on different-coloured sheets of paper. These mostly involved naming a favourite song, giving the band an opportunity to dazzle with an instantly improvised version.
Simon Wallace on piano, Neville Malcolm on bass and Winston Clifford on drums were excellent throughout, with lightning energy, versatility and rhythmic control. An accomplished composer and arranger, Wallace led his own song ‘Everybody’s got scars’, (lyrics by Fran Landesman).
Fashola offers irresistible entertainment, her performance outstanding as cabaret MC as well as singer. Hers is an essential vision of great songs from one of the ever-moving cultural frontiers of jazz.