I arrived at the gravel wasteland curiously named London Pleasure Gardens early afternoon on Saturday 21 July. This bleak and abandoned wasteland that was more reminiscent of pain than pleasure was the odd choice of venue for Africa Stage for what must have been the most ambitious music events London’s ever played host to – BT River of Music.
By the time I made my way to the photographers’ put, I was in time for the South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela rounding off his headlining act with SAfricanto in backing vocals with his classic “Coal Train”.
After a brief break which provided the hosts for the weekend Eddie Kadi and Rita Ray an opportunity to shout out the various African nations in the diverse audience and display their Azonto skills, the 11-piece lineup that is The Invisible Republic of JuJu took to the stage bringing sounds of Sahara in an experimental collaboration.
The band’s guitarist Justin Adams and ritti (one-stringed fiddle) player Juldeh Camara were joined by musicians from across Northern Africa including Veyrouz Mint Seymail, daughter od the late, much celebrated Mauritanian singer Dimi Mint Abba, making her London debut.
Another highly anticipated headliner, Grammy Award winning Beninoise singer/songwriter and activist Angélique Kidjo was up next. She sang, she danced, she treated a raucous audience to some her all time classics such as “Agolo” and “Wombo Lombo”. The spine-tingling moments came with Kidjo’s rendition of “Redemption Song” with backing vocals provided by Manchester World Voices Choir and a tribute to Miriam Makeba for which Masekela was back on stage to join Kidjo.
Amidst the singing and dancing, Kidjo still found time to address the audience, reminding us that beyond our differences, “black, white, yellow or green”, we are all human and we should be wary of judging one another with our own value before picking up her “weapon of mass loving” – her mic – to bring on stage a motley crew of backstage staff and guests who one by one took centre stage to compete with the nifty dance moves of “Africa’s premier diva” (in the words of Time Magazine).
By the time Nigeria’s first international star, King Sunny Adé took to the stage with his brass ensemble and buxom female dancers dressed in traditional attire, there was not a non-gyrating backside on sight. That was not all King Sunny Adé had in store though – there was a whole lot more variety of music than what Nigeria’s vateran musician had on offer – in the shape of guest stars Wizboyy who brought his contemporary blend of Nigerian hip hop and Da Weird MC who took the crowd by storm working the stage at breakneck speed.
The last, and certainly not the least, act of the night was another world renowned headliner Baaba Maal, backed by kora, brass and talking drums. Aptly for the African stage, as Eddie Kadi pointed out, the show was running an hour behind schedule but the crowd at Pleasure Gardens did not mind a bit as The Senegalese singer and guitarist delivered infectious beats in a powerful sond and dance set.
21 July 2012 proved the night London Pleasure Gardens, an industrial wasteland in the east of the east of London, lived up its name with a little bit of help from African musical greats. Standing in the middle of a vast field of nothingness, shoulder to shoulder with strangers whistling, humming, singing the same tunes, under the twilight star, it felt there was nothing in the world – no pain, no heartache, no wars, no distress – only music. Not African music. Not World music. Just music that sprung from the heart, travelled the vocal chord down to dancing feet and gyrating hips… Just music… And perhaps, as Kidjo said, that’s all the world needs.