Review: jazz, hip hop and dance in Dalston

Photo: Masaya Tanikawa

Part of the Barbican’s  ‘101 things to do this summer‘ programme, Dance Nations Dalston celebrated all things musical with a weekend full of free dance workshops and live music.

The festival, held in Gillett Square, opened with funky party music on Saturday afternoon, followed by soukous and Congolese rumba performed by Burkina Faso’s new band, the Zing Zong All Stars. Crowd response was lively and full of energy; it was easy to tell everyone was enjoying themselves with iced ciders and grilled meats off the barbeque. Tokyo-chutei-iki, meaning ‘Tokyo-bass-frequency- in Japanese, came on stage afterwards, with the crowd eager to see what the twelve-piece baritone saxophone ensemble would perform. Led by enigmatic Japanese musician and artist Akira Mizutani (Cicala Mvta, Shibasushirazu), their music is difficult to cage into any one genre; always surprising your ears with something original and different, the ensemble freely dips into jazz, electronica and funk with an experimental edge to everything they do. Their captivating performance was greeted with massive applause.

The next hour was hula hooping time with children and adults competing to see who could hula hoop the longest. Hoops of myriad colours were flying all over the place as the sound of laughter (and the occasional drink being spilled) filled the air. Legendary hip hop dance company Boy Blue Entertainment were also holding dance workshops, giving lessons on how to dance like the pros against thick hip-hop beats.

In the evening, the big attraction was Zun Zun Egui, an eclectic band known for their ‘psychedelic ‘gigs. Much of their lyrics sound like yodelling gibberish (and in most cases they actually are) and their music is gloriously uplifting. Full of warm, full-bodied sounds, crunchy garage guitar mingles with head-throbbing bass lines held down by tight rolling drums. Exuberant synth arpeggios cut through the mix, painting a rainbow of musical notes over slurs and croons from the vocalist. Amazing.

Sunday was just as lively: radical five-piece street band Asphalt Orchestra marched through the crowd, playing interesting music inspired by rock clubs, concert halls and crusty jazz basements. Hailed by BBC Music as THE band to watch, Benin City made a much-anticipated appearance as well; consisting of drums, saxophone, bass and spoken word artists Joshua Idahen and Musa Okwonga, their live performances are nothing short of incredible. Bit off-kilter at times in a good way, the spoken words (reminding one of rap in some ways) melded together well with the bass and sax rhythms.

On the dance side, b.supreme was offering more doses of hip-hop and r&b dancing; as the only UK festival dedicated to women in hip hop, b.supreme brings together the best of hip-hop artists from around the world complete with beat boxers, break dancers and artists.

Polar Bear on-stage (Photo: Masaya)

The entire weekend came to a close with revered experimental jazz legends Polar Bear (featuring Tom Herbert of The Invisible), performing their funk-infused jazz. Decked in cool shades, Polar Bear features two lead saxophone players, a double bass, a drummer and a guitarist. The guitarist occasionally switched over to electronics, seen wielding a Wiimote at times to control various electronic noises and sounds. He also did some remarkable sampling, crunching a plastic bottle into the mic and morphing that into a rhythmic element of the song. The drums were loud to the point where one could feel the core of their body slamming against the beats, while the air vibrated from thundering double bass and roaring saxophones. For an encore, the band returned, beers in hand, to play a surprisingly pop-ish jazz tune off their new album Peepers and round off a lively weekend of original music and fantastic dance workshops.

Keep an eye on the Barbican’s website for up-coming summer events.

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