MJF REVIEW: Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra 14.07.2012
For a second installment from our associated bloggers we have a feature written by Dan Flynn . You can read his blog here: So Flute
Words By Dan Flynn
Once again the annual buzz that is the lead up to the biggest and best jazz festival in the North West was taking hold of Manchester. Posters plastered walls throughout the drizzly streets, offering a summery excitement that the Manchester weather could not. Seventy events, half of which required no entry fee, were spread across six of the finest jazz venues the city has to offer, making this the biggest edition yet of the long running popular event.
Born in 1996 as a one-day showcase, MJF has snowballed in size over the years, growing into a 9-day musical bombardment with hundreds of musicians playing in a showcase of the finest jazz and jazz-fusions of today. This years schedule included international acts Mastretta and Kind of Cai (Both making their first UK appearances), Hackney Colliery Band, Dub Jazz Soundsystem, Stuart McCallum and many more fine musicians of all ages and experience. Jezz Nelson and Gilles Peterson of Radio 3 + 6 respectively combined to present a show at Band on the Wall and Manchester legend Mr. Scruff moved his regular first Saturday of the month ‘Keep it Unreal’ to the 14th in order to get involved with the jazzy goodness.
The first Saturday of the schedule boasted one of the most anticipated shows this year. Hailing from Yorkshire, seemingly via Lagos (Nigeria), Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra returned to Matt and Phreds for a three-hour session of afro grooves. Inspired by their love of afrobeat, James Brown and their appreciation of space jazz pioneers from the 70’s, the nine-piece band proved to be the perfect musicians to get MJF 2012 off to a flyer.
I arrived just before 10PM to find the venue heaving. Matt and Phreds was the hottest ticket in the Northern Quarter. My arrival was perfectly timed with the beginning of the first of Ariya’s three sets. The nine-piece began with slow afrobeat driven material with Arabic undercurrents easing the eager crowd into a relaxed state, by doing so, ensuring that the energy of the audience didn’t peak too early. The final song of the first set produced one of the many spine tingling moments of the gig. “Are there any ‘Fela’ fans here tonight?’ one of the band members asked. The onlookers came alive as Ariya began to play the opening chords of ‘No Water Get No Enemy’. As any fan of jazz fuzed afrobeat would tell you, it is always invigorating to hear a live performance of one of the pioneers most famous tracks, especially when performed so well. The history of the record oozed out into the low-lit atmosphere.
Ariya raised the tempo in their second and third sets much to the appreciation of the audience, playing tracks from their self-titled album such as my personal favourite ‘African Kings’. This took me back to the idyllic Soundwave, Croatia, where last year Ariya were one of the best performers of the whole festival. The dance floor filler that is ‘Get On The Floor’ really raised the vibe as the band continually played their sweet but pounding take on afro fuzed jazz music.
Ariya Astrobeat Arkhestra officially formed in 2007 following jams together at Sela Bar in Leeds. Members include instumentalists from ‘Kidkanevil’s’ live show and Homecut whome like Ariya, are signed to ‘First Word’ records.
Comparisons to ‘Antibalas’ have been made which I am sure will come as a huge compliment to the band. However I feel that Ariya certainly deserve these comparisons and have risen to become one of the best Afrobeat bands in the country, if not the best. Not only do they have an ability to cover decade old records to perfection but their own production of afrobeat is extremely refreshing and has given DJ’s the chance to play out crisp new rhythmic afrobeat that has so much energy.
Ariya proved to be a fantastic start to the jazz festival. The most notable aspect of their performance was the energy they fed into the venue. Having seen Femi Kuti and his band recently at Band on the Wall, I was afraid that Ariya may have been a little underwhelming on a personal level. The Femi gig was very special, probably the best live performance of music I have witnessed. However, Ariya still managed to excite and technically it was difficult to distinguish between them and Femis band members, some of whom have worked with the masters son for years.
To play ‘No Water Get No Enemy’ and make it sound so authentic is no mean feat and shows the quality that Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra have. I’m sure if ‘Fela’ were able to watch, he would be proud.
The African Kings of Leeds never fail to excite. If you are a fan of African music I recommend you see them whenever they are playing near to you. Their passion, enthusiasm and commitment shine through in the sweet vibrations that they produce from their weapons of music. Once again it was a memorable night at Matt and Phreds, Manchester’s premier jazz hang out.