Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, Ghostpoet and Money Mark also appear
Last night, Damon Albarn, Kele Okereke from Bloc Party, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and Ghostpoet joined forces to play songs by cult Nigerian electro-funk musician turned born-again Christian pastor William Onyeabor.
They turned London’s seated Barbican concert hall into a dance party as they jammed through Onyeabor’s best material. It was the first time the songs had ever been played live, even by the elusive Onyeabor himself.
The indie cast was joined by Beastie Boys’ keyboardist Money Mark, LCD Soundsystem’s former drummer Pat Mahoney, Nigerian Afrobeat twins The Lijadu Sisters and a raft of New York and Nigerian musicians, who were led by musical director and Yeasayer multi-instrumentalist Ahmed Gallab.
Onyeabor, whose 1970s songs were released as a compilation by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label in 2013, was seen as an eccentric figure on Nigeria’s music scene, though he is now revered for his forward-thinking use of synths in his songs. Today, he shuns the limelight, and the show paid tribute to his Christian beliefs by opening with a lengthy sermon from a preacher.
Once the band started its funk jam, Albarn danced by the side of the stage, joining them to play melodica on ‘Heaven And Hell’, sung by Okereke. He then sat at the back on the stage and listened as the backing singers for the night, The Lijadu Sisters, performed two of their late-’70s tracks, the punk-laced, politically conscious songs ‘Danger’ and ‘Life Gone Down Low’.
Albarn took lead vocals for ‘Fantastic Man’, which he began by asking the crowd, “Are you feeling William Onyeabor’s spirit?” As the band launched into the song, he stopped them and asked them to started again because he “wanted to get it right”. He got down on his knees and serenaded the 65-year-old Lijadu Sisters and duelled with Money Mark on synths.
Alexis Taylor, meanwhile, performed Hot Chip’s cover of slower number ‘Atomic Bomb’, which will appear on Luaka Bop’s Record Store Day release, ‘WHAT?! – William Onyeabor Remixed’. The compilation also features a rendition by The Vaccines of ‘Do You Want A Man’.
For the final encore, Taylor, Okereke and Ahmed Gallab and teamed up to sing ‘Smooth And Good’ as Money Mark danced across the stage and Albarn played keyboards. By the end of the show there were three drummers, four keyboardists and a brass section on stage.
The setlist was as follows:
‘Body And Soul’
‘Good Name’ feat. Alexis Taylor
‘Atomic Bomb’ feat. Alexis Taylor
‘Love Me Now’ feat. Ghostpoet
‘Heaven And Hell’ feat. Kele Okereke
‘Danger’ by The Lijadu Sisters
‘Life Gone Down Low’ by The Lijadu Sisters
‘Fantastic Man’ feat. Damon Albarn
‘Love Is Blind’ feat. Kele Okereke
‘Better Change Your Mind’
‘When The Going Is Smooth And Good’ feat. Alexis Taylor, Damon Albarn, Kele Okereke