Banana Klan Bashment Ensemble - The Book Club, Shoreditch - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Banana Klan Bashment Ensemble - The Book Club, Shoreditch

by Charly Richardson Rating: Release Date:

As the band takes the stage at The Book Club in Shoreditch, Rodney 'Roots Manuva' Smith prepares the audience: "This is an experimentation in dub manipulation....are you ready to go bananas?" I have seen Roots Manuva a number of times, and the quality of his band has always varied. I was anxious, therefore, to witness the latest incarnation of his Banana Klan Bashment Ensemble, a characteristically eccentric name which is possibly a reference to the Jamaican village, Banana Hole, from which his parents hail. The name also provides Smith with raw material for his legendary wit: "Sorry for starting a bit late. You know what it's like, banana time. It's curved".

Much of the first half is a semi-improvised jam. Compromising DJ MK, drum kit, two keys/laptop players, bass, a backing vocalist, the man himself and his sidekick Ricky Ranking, the band quickly dig into deep grooves covering a broad palette of hip-hop, funk, and bashment, with dub-reggae as the powerful adhesive holding it all together. Smith doesn't seem quite comfortable with the band's initial freestyle experimentation, acting more like a host than a spotlight emcee. He also spends an inordinate amount of time filming the audience on his mobile. He is clearly enjoying himself, yet I'm glad when he finally takes centre-stage, delivering his trademark part-cockney, part-patois rhymes lazily, just behind the beat. And it works brilliantly, complimented by delicately responsive backing vocals (Ricky Ranking is a surprisingly good singer), crisp, shuffling drums, solid bass and pleasingly restrained electronics. The band venture into new material and intriguing arrangements of Damian Marley's 'Welcome To Jamrock' and Junior Murvin's 'Police and Thieves', amongst others. Towards the end of the first set, we are asked what we want to hear. And what lyrics we want. Thankfully it doesn't descend into live karaoke, and the band finish the second set reminding us that: "We are going to increase the pressure later". And they are not lying.

The second set starts with a bang. After asking whether we want new or old material, Smith ignores the reactionary audience's predictable reply, launching into relatively fresh material. 'Again and Again' and 'Buff Nuff' from 2008's Slime and Reason are particular highlights. Ode-to-weed 'Highest Grade' from Run Come Save Me is warm and hypnotic. Throughout the band are restrained and rock-solid, standing out from many of the other live hip-hop bands on the circuit. Best of all, this is only their second gig, so the best is surely yet to come.

When, inevitably, some older material gets an airing, the predictable yet pleasing live-rewinds are brought into play. 'Awfully Deep' is slower, with a dubstep-tinge. When they reach the anthemic 'Witness (1 Hope)', the crowd go ape-shit. Throughout Smith is witty and charming, dedicating at least one tune to 'the ladies', and encouraging us to go to the new Banana Klan website (www.bananaklan.co.uk) to support independent music, because: "At least two-pence, I mean eighty per-cent goes to me". The band finishes with a fantastic rendition of 'Dreamy Days'. When reminded that the song is almost eleven-years old, I can't help thinking how few UK acts, let alone rappers, have survived as long as Roots Manuva. This remarkably intimate gig -as Smith himself says, it is like being around a camp fire- proves that he is still going strong, pushing boundaries and finding new sounds. Finishing with a topical gag, we are reminded to "vote for Dub College", the name of Ricky Ranking's latest mixtape. He's got my vote.

Charly Richardson

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