Sunday, 26 March 2017

Yaaba Ranked

Bit of a starry-eyed entry today.  I thought it was important to record how I acually felt at this gig, but also important to identify what was down to the performers and what was down to the atmosphere and the contrast to my earlier experiences.

Of course, the irony is that on a different night I'm sure the frugging neo-hippies and west Oxford world music yoghurtistas would have driven me to an acid rage.  I am fickle.

No I'm not.

YAABA FUNK, Bossaphonik, Cellar, 3/3/17

Some gigs feel like more than nights out.  Having wrestled our way out of a cashpoint mugging at the hands of a man in black tie – as neat an image of Britain in 2017 as we can imagine – we stumble into The Cellar to find a smiling Bossaphonik crowd.  Old, young, street smart, backpacker scruffy, black, white, male, female, blurring the division between the two, and all dancing happily I(if not necessarily aesthetically).  It’s at times like this we feel that Nightshift’s Oxford is a better version than any you’d find on celluloid or tea towel.

Even for those not having a minor emotional epiphany this gig offers a top flight band to make the night special.  Depressingly, a funk gig  is often just bread and circuses crowd-pleasing, little more than a mass of blues change ballast between overlong solos and silly shirts, whereas great funk is taut, minimal and sometimes disorienting.  One of the most extreme examples is Fela Kuti’s afrobeat, with repeated riffs extending for whole gigs and LP sides like huge landing strips for politically charged sweat soaked sentiments.  Brixton’s Yaaba Funk understand this perfectly, and although they have bouncing, high life influences, their longform pieces stretch into the distance, riveted intermittently by stainless steel horn stabs.  The vocals have the simple immediacy of slogans chanted from a barricade, four square but always no the edge of impassioned abandon.  Conversely the brass section spins off into improvisation (ribbons of Ben Webster sax and Dizzy-ing trumpet spirals) but always returns to tight punching just when the music threatens to get flabby.

And that’s it: repeat until euphoric or revolutionary, whichever comes sooner.  There’s a brief period in the doldrums three quarters of the way in, a call and response section going to seed and growing ugly and untameable over 5 long minutes, but this is the only misstep.  We’ll support any band that uses its double agogo tattoo to call a room of punters together despite their differences, when so many outside the Cellar are trying to drive us apart because of them.

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