Over the last weekend of May, Manchester’s music venues host the eclectic rhythms brought to us by Manchester Jazz Festival (MJF). Musicians come from all over the world in celebration of a genre that has made its mark on the world, to a city where the love of all music runs deep.
Father of Ethio-Jazz, Mulatu Astatke was set to be Friday’s headlining act at the legendary music venue: Band on the Wall. Songs most noted for him include "Yègellé Tezeta (My Own Memory)" and Mulatu Astatke - Tezeta (Nostalgia). However, it wasn’t meant to be, due to the inadequacies of the UK Visas and Immigration office not issuing his visa on time. Something which never happens to American musicians... Luckily, Manchester’s own Agbeko were on hand to play what the crowd were craving, their own Ethio-Jazz, Afrobeat-inspired set.
Set in one of Manchester’s famous music venues, an apprehensive crowd gathered around the fringes of the venue, no one wanting to take the best spot. Naturally, we walk straight across the floor and situate ourselves front and centre. Agbeko stroll on stage in front of a patchy crowd, applause ensues, and a moment of silence. The 11-piece band looks at each other, the drummer starts a rhythmic beat, and the keys play a dreamy few notes to count in a funky guitar riff. Within the first 30 seconds, the blare of horns, drums and electric guitars has the crowd moving in on us, and us already dancing. Before the end of the first song, everyone is dancing. I challenge you to see these guys live and not dance. The special thing about seeing a group of such talented musicians is watching the joy of them simply playing their instruments.
The instruments have you spellbound, as does the voice of the lead singer Amber. Her voice is strong, a call to action, calling us to unite taking hold of the rhythm. At other times, as in 'The Remedy' her voice sounds as hypnotising as a snake charmer's flute does to a snake. Together with the band, they create a unique personality for every single song, embodying the true essence of African Jazz. Evidently, the band is heavily inspired by the likes of Mulatu Astatke, Fela Kuti and Ibibio Sound Machine.
Lyrics about love, community, justice and politics run through their music, so it only felt right for them to have spoken on the system which stopped Mulatu from being there that night. We all joined, by their lead, to give a middle finger to Priti Patel, in his honour.
The feeling of togetherness ran strong in the room, and the night continued to dance on, with a crowd that slowly melted more together. Playing songs from their recent album "D.O.D" and their 2017 release "Unite" we were lucky to hear tunes such as 'Hurt Me So', 'Unite' and 'There Is A Jungle' to name a few. We made friends with strangers and danced with strangers, while we celebrated each instrument individually, with skilled solos from each musician. The saxophonist swaggered around the stage and had everyone stop to hear the beautiful screech of his sax. The drummer along with the bongo player's solos had everyone dancing with fervour to their beat. Guitar solos that you thought you’d only hear at rock gigs raged on. A trombone solo was played with such passion, that it felt like being in the front row of a 3D movie. We wanted more. The night had to end at some point, however, ended with a call for an encore which was genuine. Agbeko had made us feel free and light, and we cheered and applauded them off stage in gratitude.