Krar Collective - School of Oriental & African Studies, London - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Krar Collective - School of Oriental & African Studies, London

by Leonora Walters Rating: Release Date:

There was no build up or grand entry. After Krar player Temesegen Tareken, singer Genet Astatke and drummer Amare walked in and assembled themselves from left to right in front of their respective instruments and microphone, Tareken embarked on a series of chords and refrains on one of his two Krars, a traditional Ethiopean harp (albeit wired up to an amplifier) - music stripped back to its bare bones. The London-based Krar Collective focus on dynamic roots music from different parts of Ethiopia and different traditions, though also look to add a contemporary edge.

Soon Astatke began to sing a soft, delicate lilting address to Tareken, who shortly responded as he continued to play, establishing a dialogue between the two. The second song took a similar form, the main difference being a slow drum base from Amare, which become slightly more up-tempo in the third song, still in the same format but with Tareken playing his second Krar, which he was to keep until the end of the show. Astatke went from a delicate lilt to almost a whisper - her singing style was definitely more about delicacy rather than power, I thought.

Amare's base for the fourth song became faster and louder, Astatke hung up her embroidered coat on her mike to reveal a striking yellow floor length gown and moved to the front of the stage, and out leapt a huge voice - this girl could sing! - and yet somehow she managed to maintain a lilt and begin to dance. Tareken's chords and refrains were frenetic and louder, and with all three singing, the show had really begun.

Quite literally, because after this two dancers in traditional dress performed some intricate, fast and furious footwork. Although Astatke had retreated to the back of the stage to make way for the dancers, she not only sang, but produced whoops and audio effects worthy of a beatboxer. After the dancers retreated Astatke danced, shaking herself in Tareken's face, who joined her dance while continuing to play - their dialogue had become a steamy flirtation, certainly in terms of the dance.

Both Tareken and Astatke focused on their playing and singing from now on, but their dancers came in and out, while Amare varied his baselines, at times almost resembling a western rock band. The closing song was calm relative to some of what had come earlier, with groovier sounding music, although Astatke give it her all on vocals, bringing an end to an intense one hour and 40 minutes with no break.

But rather than their stamina, their real success was in providing constant variety to what could have become a series of monotonous chords. This was not only due to visuals such as dancing, but varying speed and rhythm, and different strength and style of singing on the part of Astatke. The dynamism was reflected in the reaction of the crowd who became livelier and more enthusiastic as the show progressed, and doubtless would have joined in the dancing had the concert not been in a seated lecture theatre.

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