La Fete, the new club night summoning African grooves into the heart of Dalston, couldn’t have been staged in a better venue. Held at Open the Gate (a recent addition to Stoke Newington road nightlife) where the vibes are warm and friendly, it was clear from the off that dance moves were going to be thrown down and beers were going to be raised. The event was labelled as a Valentine’s Special but, truth be told, you didn’t ever need to know that the feast of love was approaching to register the kind of atmosphere that was livening up the place.
When we arrived we were welcomed by the faces of an array of singers, including Buju Banton, Max Romeo, Gregory Isaacs and Bob Marley, who were beaming down at us as part of an exhibition of paintings by Lois Cordelia. The earthy colours on display mixed well with the smells rising from the African/Jamaican kitchen, and we knew we were in the right place. The bar/restaurant/art space/live venue is richly embellished, also featuring spray-can art, sofas fit for lounging and a well stocked book case (plus ultra reasonable food and beer prices), and is wonderfully cosy.
The evening, programmed by the Focus organisation, began in the fashion favoured by every east London night owl: with a set of upfront tunes selected by a suitably charismatic DJ. Oya Bun was the first to make the necessary introductions a few minutes after 9pm, bombarding the dance-floor with an assortment of hyper riddims, including the sounds of Favela Funk, Soca and Bashment House.The hyperkinetic DJ kept bounding between the crowd and the decks, swinging his arms in every direction until everyone in attendance started letting go, drifting into a wild dance without any rules.
After such an amazing warm up it would seem difficult for any band to keep up, but Yak Attack did so with ease. A well practised bunch of music connoisseurs and flexible entertainers, their smooth set paid homage to jazz, funk, blues and dub (plus all sub-genres and other stylistic tones in between) providing elongated versions of their recorded material that sailed into the night, powered by masterful playing and a love of fused, ethnic sounds.
The night drew on, with a building sense of anticipation toward Kasai Masai’s performance. When the band appeared, it was clear why. Their Congolese dynamics are irrefutable; intricate songs wound tight by a bass and drums rhythm section, itchy guitar riffage and skittering j’embe beats. It’s hard not to dance when musicians create a flow so effortlessly. Kasai Masai write songs that are perfectly weighted, each instrumental element bouncing off the other, resulting in fantastic excursions that prove the worth of what the Focus organisation, via La Fete, want to showcase: the rich, wonderful musicality of Africa. And if you weren’t already aware, you should become educated right away.
Review by Seb Wheeler and Sophia Ignatidou