Event Review: Benin City EP Launch (London, 31st March)

The Roundhouse, Camden on Wednesday night was full to the brim as fans present and future of alternative Hip Hop outfit Benin City [pictured above] gathered for their EP launch in association with PoeJazzi showcase events.

The night was hosted by South London’s finest, rapper Davey J who was kicking on all cylinders. His frenetic turn as compeer was peppered with deliberately distorted but ingenious freestyles.

The Benin City lads Musa [Okwonga] and Josh [Idehen] didn’t hold back on the supporting acts. First to whet the crowd’s appetite was poet, Belinda. Her tentative delivery belied intelligent, stirring verse about being her father’s daughter and growing up in post-colonial Zimbabwe.

Next to perform were David Goo and the Variety Band. With their brand of ska-laced melodic rock, zany tongue-in-cheek lyrics and copious amounts of energy, David and co are usually good value for money. Nevertheless they were on especially good form on Wednesday. This particular set included a sub-plot about an evil villain in pursuit of world domination, masking as the Band’s bassist. The audience seemed both understandably baffled and enthralled by it all.

Goo and the gang were followed by the mellifluous tones of ukulele-playing singer-songwriter Jem Cooke. She alternated between jazzy intonations and Christina Aguilera-at-her-most-R&B riffs with occasional traces of the Winehouse/Adele catch in the voice that is so popular amongst female vocalists these days.

There was plenty of spontaneous banter between Jem and the audience as well as the sound technicians as she conducted impromptu mic checks throughout her set. Cooke also had her faithful followers in the crowd who sang along with gusto to her back catalogue.

There’s no questioning the soulfulness of Cooke’s voice and that she pours her heart into every word she sings. However, her lovely vocals only make up for the repetitive nature of her songs; pleasant but not particularly groundbreaking love ditties tending to blend one into the other.

Darling of the spoken word scene, Inua Ellams, then briefly graced the stage with his hypnotic voice and verse leaving no room for doubt as to why he receives such rave reviews.

Finally, after what seemed like an age, Benin City got to do their thing, full band in toe including brass section. It was wonderfully refreshing to see Musa [pictured above] free his body with such abandon to the naughty-but-nice bassline on ‘Work’ proving that his electrifying charisma is as present on stage as it is off-stage. The boys also made time for their first love, acapella performance poetry.

Josh’s delivery is more shock–and-awe, an abundance of expletives et al. Musa’s reflective offerings hit home in an altogether more profound way as demonstrated on the elegiac ‘Passport’ – a piece on the impact of the loss of his father at a tender age.

Stand out tracks from the headline act included the aforementioned ‘Work’, ‘Snakepit’, the band’s cover of Ernie K Doe’s ‘Here Come The Girls’ (or boys in this instance) and the encore – a ‘freestyle’ about the Northern Line sampling 2Unlimited’s ‘No Limits’. Benin City’s bassist deserves a special mention for seriously holding his own and on occasion almost upstaging everything else.

Judging by the reaction of those in attendance the launch was a resounding success. It’s just a shame that Benin City chose to have so many supporting artists precede them that it ate into their own set. Next time fellows, give yourselves more time on stage!

–Tola Ositelu

Photography by Rajesh J Taylor.

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