Proud jazz-funk flag-wavers London Afrobeat Collective came through with a typically charismatic, uplifting and colourful performance – energising that tightly packed Brudenell Community Room audience to an almost dizzying state of euphoria, obliged by their high-energy soundclash of funk and psychedelic rock infused arrangements injected into predominant Afrobeat rhythms, holding firm to LAC’s continuing messages born from their affections towards the musical and socio-political origins of Afrobeat and Afrobeat musicians. Four years on from their last visit to Leeds, the nine-strong Collective comprising musicians from worldwide origins returned to showcase their latest album release ‘Humans’ and the lifted single ‘Power to the Women’

The long arm of the Leeds jazz scene continues to show its strength – scores of students already with the bewildering knowledge foundations of their jazz piers and contemporaries, constant yearly fledglings from Leeds College of Music cutting their teeth in the local hangouts and jazz-dedicated clubs that are promoting and encouraging new and acclaimed jazz and jazz-crossover artists. Gone are the stigmatic days of a secret society of pork-pie hat connoisseurs and a language only spoken in smokey sub-terra joints. Of course the musical language of jazz is still relevant, no less complex, but it is much less constrained and specialised, allowed to breathe and transform again so that it has become more accessible and importantly more enjoyable to newer generations. Fortunate then, that the continued devotion of jazz-lovers and promoters around Leeds have moved with the times, are recognising emerging talents and are pushing them to the fore.

LAC have already proven themselves to be successful at major festivals, so it is a privilege to hear and see a performance in a more intimate arena, entering the stage with familiarity, with a minimal soundcheck they were straight into playing, a calling of sorts to welcome into the frame the striking centrepiece of the band – lead vocalist Juanita Euka who immediately sought to establish an onstage presence and captivated the audience for the duration, suitably propped by the impressive gyrations and baritone sax-smithery of Klibens Michelet.

The band were super tight, evident in their body language, the way they were watching one other, listening for the groove, acknowledging each others playing with occasional nuances, enjoying the feeling of freely dancing and engaging with the audience. The repertoire was beat driven, a given for obvious reasons. Crisp drums, rock-steady bass. Right on it. The interplay of the brass section and guitar fretwork of the bookended wingmen brought to the party a great deal of colour and interest. All focussed and precise. The horns less abrasive than your typically unwavering funk band synonymous for short technical stabs, rather more gentile and fluid as evident on the politically charged ‘Tolembi’ opening proceedings on Humans. Filling in on the percussive side, the spectacularly hirsute Richard Sweet furiously battled away on the conga and cowbell keeping the intensity driving headlong.

Centre stage however was governed by the enigmatic vocal talents and visual stage presence of Congo born Juanita Euka, with a measured and controlled performance throughout, mastering the uptempo associations as well as the delivery on the heartfelt turbulent messages within ‘Tokomona’. Afrobeat has many musical passages and intervals, so plenty of time where a less exuberant singer would look vacant and lost. Euka’s stage performance was full of all the beneficial qualifications you would need in which to fill those gaps, expressiveness, great dancing, enticing and exciting the audience and playfully engaging with the other musicians.

London Afrobeat Collective then. Detonating their groove-laden jazz-funk bomb once again which left the crowd and compere demanding an encore, which was duly delivered in the cover of none other than Fela Kuti’s ‘Zombie’. Mission success.

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Promotions and praise to Lubi Jovanovic