The African Center rings in the Christmas season with the Lagos AfroFunk Collective – Toni Kan

Multi-hyphenate, Nze Ed Emeka Keazor was in top form as he sang and joked, danced and adlibbed his way through a two-and-a-half-hour set of highlife, afrobeat, reggae and afrobeats songs.

Taking the stage alongside a four man band called the Lagos AfroFunk Collective and made up of Jose Joyett on drums, Joe Oware on guitar, Ayo Odia on the saxophone and Mike Idowu on the bass guitar, Ed and co left the audience that had gathered at The African Center in Southwark, London swaying, clapping, dancing and singing along as they dropped banger after banger in what was an expansive and rollicking musical odyssey through West Africa with a few detours as they traced the percussion heavy trajectory and provenance of contemporary African music from the highlife era to Afro funk and Fela’s afrobeat to the current rave, Afrobeats.

The evening while billed as a concert doubled as celebration of corporate mandarin, writer and titled chief, Keith Richards, who just turned 70.

Ed Keazor and Keith Richard
Ed Keazor and Keith Richards

Lawyer, historian, musician and documentary maker, Ed Keazor did not just sing or lead a band, he provided context and history to the songs that they played beginning from Ghana where highlife originated as “seaside music” before landing in Lagos and giving name to Yaba, the popular Lagos locale which Ed explained is not even a Yoruba word.

It is from a Fante word from Ghana referencing the peregrinations of itinerant fishermen who used to announce their arrival on shore with a shout of  Yaa ba meaning “we have come.”

Ed’s historical context highlighted the fact that whenever Ghana and Nigeria is mentioned in the same breath music and jollof rice would surely rear its head with the anxiety of inspiration at the core.

Who inspired whom when it comes to music?

Victor Olaiya would get a mention before the Lagos AfroFunk Collective moved on to the Afro funk music of the Funkees who reigned in Nigeria just after the civil war. Ed’s interpretation of Akula, a classic from the group was a beauty.

The audience is enraptured

Osibisa’s Welcome Home was redolent with nostalgia especially with Ayo Odia’s sick sax solo. But there was no time to dwell on it before the band launched into Third World’s Lagos Jump, bringing FESTAC 77 fully into the mix.

Fela Kuti’s Fogo Fogo, the jazz and highlife infused and rhythmic song from Fela’s Koola Lobitos era had the audience dancing and singing along but before the audience could fully take it in, Ed and co pulled a magical segue from afrobeat to afrobeats, moving into more a contemporary terrain with the banging Jazzman Olofin and Adewale Ayuba club anthem, Raise the Roof signaling the dawn of the nascent afrobeats era.

The highpoint of the night was Ed’s take on Bella Schmurda’s CashApp. Slowed down and delivered first acapella style, Ed and the members of his Lagos AfroFunk Collective took it all the way from church to the grandest concert halls one can find.

It was a virtuoso performance and musical make-over that highlighted the band’s prodigious talent and experience while lending gravitas to a street anthem. It was an interpretation that would set alight a venue like The Royal Albert Hall and leave Bella Schmurda wondering what happened to his song.

The evening wound to an end with a speech by birthday boy, Keith Richards whose demand for one more song for the road led the band to close with “Rainmaker “Majek Fashek’s evergreen Send Down the Rain.

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