Bringing 25 years of Africa Oye to a close, Shaun Ponsonby sees a performance of sheer class from French-Cameroon artist Blick Bassy.
Africa Oye’s 25th anniversary has been celebrated with a number of incredible events this year, not least the glorious sunshine that accompanied its central weekend over the summer.
But Blick Bassy rounded the celebrations off with a performance of such class and mastery that it really beggars belief.
He begins acapella with Ake. There was a silence in the room that you rarely hear at gigs. The cliché of being able to hear a pin drop was all too real. There was a respect and reverence for the man that would envy so many artists.
During the song, he stood up and picked up a banjo, and was joined by his two multi-instrumentalist band members, Clément Petit and Johan Blanc, who provide the perfect accompaniment to Bassy’s pure, soulful songs and voice.
“Pure” feels like the correct terminology. It is an entire musical world he has carved out. As much as it is avant garde and psychedelic, there is something truly Earth bound about it too. You feel every word, despite him singing in a foreign language.
At one point, he plays a record from a vinyl set-up on stage and sings over it. For a lesser artist, this could seem tacky and lazy. But Bassy possesses so much class that he makes it work seamlessly. The performance epitomises an important element of his stage act; a subtle theatricality that is certainly present, but never overpowers the music, which remains the focus.
This becomes apparent again later on, when he hits his highest notes of the night during Wap do Wap. It is no hyperbole to suggest that it almost felt like his spirit was leaving his body, which makes perfect sense given how the song is about a man on his deathbed, bequeathing wisdom and knowledge to his grandchildren. He emphasised this with subtle movements, seemingly portraying a bird flying to freedom. He has transcended, and his body has become his main instrument.
It was an astonishing moment, and left us all in disbelief.
He ended by wishing “One love” to us all, and encouraged us all to be nicer to each other. But conversation in the auditorium afterwards focused entirely on the genius of Blick Bassy. And rightly so. He brought us all together harmoniously.
Pictures by Graham Smillie