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Kabantu review – five-piece impress with soulful and swinging fusion

Classical training with a swing … Kabantu. Photograph: Alex Moldovan

Kabantu aim to “celebrate the space where different cultures meet”. The Manchester-based acoustic quintet includes classically trained players who met at the Royal Northern College of Music and a virtuoso busker they heard playing in the city. They have developed a fusion style in which global influences are mixed with jazz improvisation and reminders of their classical backgrounds. They are fine technical musicians, but know how to swing, and to sing with immaculate five-part harmonies.

This was the launch for their debut album, Of the People, but they were clearly determined to show that it reflects only part of their range. They opened with Good Call, an instrumental that’s not on the album, in which violinist Katie Foster mixed a rousing Scottish traditional tune with one of her own compositions, driven on by banjo, guitar, cello, congas and other hand percussion from Delia Stevens, whose thoughtful, insistent playing is crucial to the Kabantu sound. Then came scat vocals, songs from Brazil and India, and a traditional Bulgarian song with continuously changing time signatures. Later, they switched to Americana as Ben Sayah demonstrated his rapid-fire guitar work on Black Mountain Rag, a piece popularised by Doc Watson.

Watch Kabantu play Good Call

South African vocal traditions played a key role in this eclectic mix, thanks to cellist Abel Selaocoe, who was born in Sebokeng township outside Johannesburg. He led the band through a rousing, soulful treatment of the traditional Ulidzile! and then asked for audience participation – often a disastrous move in London. Remarkably, he succeeded, inspiring enthusiastic three-part harmonies from the Rich Mix crowd. Other African songs included a slow, exquisite treatment of the Miriam Makeba favourite, Malaika, while for an encore, the band demonstrated mine workers’ gumboot dancing. It would have been an embarrassment if they hadn’t been so proficient, and was a suitably confident end to an impressive set.

This article titled "Kabantu review – five-piece impress with soulful and swinging fusion" was written by Robin Denselow, for The Guardian on Monday 12 February 2018 12.51pm


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