Music / Osibisa

Review: Osibisa, The Lantern

By bellcatherine, Tuesday May 30, 2017

Osibisa was formed in Finsbury Park, North London in 1969 by three Ghanaian and three Caribbean musicians, and many now claim they established ‘World Music’ as a marketable genre. The 60s rock scene was tailing off, and there was a gap for a high octane, positive sound like theirs that evoked cultures from all over the globe.

On the hottest day of the year so far, we are gathered downstairs in the darkened Lantern of Colston Hall waiting for them. On arrival, they explain two of the band members have been held up in an accident, so the remaining quartet fleshes out the beginning with a light jam that gets us to our feet.

The last two members suddenly arrive, and we are thrown into the Osibisa blender – mellifluous African lyrics, Caribbean rhythms, Jazz, Latin samba and R&B are all ingredients. It’s a musical world tour that feels at once historic and bang up to date.

This is the tribal ‘reunion’ and three of the original “beautiful seven” line-up are present: Wendell Richardson (lead guitar and vocals), Sol Amarfio (drums and backing vocals) and Kofi Ayivor (percussion and vocals). The alternating line-up keeps the arrangement of the old songs fresh. The young trumpeter particularly is a standout, lifting his trumpet one-handed, his lines sparring perfectly with the deep voice of Kofi.

During The coffee Song I hear someone say “It’s all about the percussion”, and in a way it is – it is the Brazilian carnival’s heartbeat and every pair of hips in this little room is shaking now. Diehard fans spiral across the front, evangelical, with arms raised and smiles wide.

Spirits Up Above is dedicated to the victims of Manchester, and Wendell’s rich voice brings us back down to a sway. He’s the undisputed star of the piece, with Stevie’s soul and Jimi’s skills, hiding behind a big pair of sunnies.

A little online digging reveals that ‘Osibisa’ means “criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness”. I couldn’t have put it any better.
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