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October 31, 2011 6:30 pm
The first Honest Jon’s Chop Up, in 2008, showed off the London record label’s stars and friends in a free-flowing, fast-paced musical relay race. This second Chop Up, passing through London on a microtour that started in Cork the previous night, had the same philosophy but a largely different cast.
As before, Honest Jon’s patron Damon Albarn was behind the keyboards, and Tony Allen at the drum kit. The two have formed a new band, Rocket Juice And The Moon, with the bassist Flea, formerly of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. In part, this concert served as a first public outing for the band, with the guests from the as-yet-unreleased album fronting the music.
Accordingly, rising Malian star Fatoumata Diawara, pianist Cheick Tidiane Seck and Ghanaian rapper M.anifest took turns to sing or play or preach over a backing that combined squelchy analogue synthesiser from Albarn, Allen’s effortless-looking but rhythmically dense Afrobeat drumming and Flea’s hyperactive-looking but relatively basic slapped bass. Diawara, normally flawless, was swamped by the noise.
The great discovery of the first Chop Up was the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The eight brothers were back, this time with their father, sometime Sun Ra affiliate Kelan Phil Cohran, playing his homemade thumb piano, the frankiphone. But too often here the Ensemble added colour in dribs and drabs to other performances, never being unleashed in their full swaying pomp.
There was an interlude from South Africa’s Shangaan Electro, from the north of South Africa. “My name is Nozinja,” announced Richard Mthetwa, from inside a toga and an acrylic fright wig, “and we’re going to move with speed now.” “We’re going to move with speed now,” announced Richard Mthetwa, in toga and acrylic fright wig. He then fiddled endlessly with a mute laptop before finally unleashing a string of high-speed beats. Shangaan techno is properly, cheap, tinny and artificial, but live, with Allen boosting the rhythms and Seck adding keyboards, it made a beefy 10 minutes. Sjinedo Chauke, in latex whiteface, danced at 180 beats per minute with a pillow stuffed into a paunch.
At the end, with everyone joining in the Afrobeat shuffle of “Here We Go”, the second Chop Up felt like a wasted opportunity. There had been some surprises, but too many muddy jams for the few moments of clarity or beauty.
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