Ondatrópica and KonKoma – Hackney Empire, London, July 20 2012
By Louise Ungless
The Hackney Empire was filled with an eagerly awaiting audience on Friday as two very energetic bands took to the theatre’s stage. Many had come to this East London venue to celebrate Colombia’s independence day by dancing the night away. With some of the finest Colombian musicians spanning several generations performing under the name of Ondatrópica, it was the perfect fiesta.
Whilst most members of the crowd took to their seats with drinks, others preferred to remain standing at the back of the theatre hall. Unlike most major arts centers where seating is encouraged, it was refreshing to see that the Hackney Empire had a much more laid back attitude.
New London-based band KonKoma kick started the evening with their rich blend of Afro-funk, jazz, soul and traditional African rhythms. The nine-piece band immediately pleased the crowd with their funk guitars riffs, outstanding percussion, soulful vocals and the energetic West African táma (talking drum). The four-piece horn section reflected pure James Brown funk and 1970s African grooves found in Fela Kuti‘s Afro-beat. As Scott Baylis, Max Grunhard and Ben Hadwen acted and danced out the notes, moving their brass instruments up and down as they hit the highs and lows, there was a strong association with the performances of James Brown.
Wearing his trilby hat, keyboardist/vocalist Emmanuel Rentzos knocked out all the talent within him during the second track ‘Sibashaye’. Members of the audience frantically danced in front of the stage, adding a great party atmosphere. The kora and acoustic guitar were beautifully in sync on ‘(Accra Jump)’, which was driven by heavy bass and drums, whilst ‘Kpanogo’ consisted of excellent free-style percussion, bringing a carnival atmosphere to the venue.
KonKoma was an excellent start to the evening, where all musicians were highly skilled and polished. Members of the crowd were on their feet dancing throughout the whole set, leaving seats deserted by the time Ondatrópica came on stage. With hints of 60s and 70s American funk, Afro-beat, jazz and soul, it was certainly hard not to dance along to this opening act.
The party only got bigger as Ondatrópica performed their set. With a wave of the Colombian flag and an introduction to ‘Tiene Sabor Tiene Sazon’, they caused a rupturing applause. They followed this with the Cuban-influenced ‘Bomba Tropica’, where members of the crowd thoroughly enjoyed dancing in partners. The packed theatre hall then sang along to ‘El Caiman y Gallinazo’ as saxophonist Michi Sarmiento performed, danced and waved the Colombian flag. As the track name suggests, ‘Ska Fuentes’ was heavy with ska influences, turning the venue into more of a frenzy.
Accordionist Will Holland (aka Quantic) took over on ‘Libya’, giving this track a pure cumbia sound. The heavy bass drove the song, dropping down in the middle to emphasise the outstanding skill from Wilson Viveros on timbales and El Chongo on percussion. A particular highlight was their more renowned track ‘Suena’, blending traditional and modern styles. Other highlights were the cover of Rod Stewart‘s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’, otherwise titled ‘Gaita Tropica’. Another tongue-in-cheek song was the encore and cover of Black Sabbath, ‘I Ron Man’, featuring a faultless sax solo by Sarmiento. No one takes center stage in Ondatrópica, where very musician has the chance to shine. The band caused one hell of a party with their combination of ska, beat-box, dub, funk, accordion mash ups and classic cumbia, gaita and champeta.
This was a fantastic night produced by the Barbican. The audience infected Ondatrópica and KonKoma with their celebratory, energetic mood. Combined with a laid back seated venue, there was no better time to catch these two extraordinary bands live.