It is safe to say Brighton-based record label Mr Bongo has earned its name as the best champions of diverse music in town. Director of Operations Graham Luckhurst asserted that ticket holders for their 30th anniversary event would be “very hard pushed” to find this lineup “anywhere else in the world, especially at that ticket price”. It’s hard to disagree upon arriving at Brighton Dome this bank holiday weekend.
Entering into the bustling foyer, fellow record-heads are met with a rich variety of selections as first drinks are ordered, handpicked by Mr Thing and DJ Format as they control the room from open til close. The main auditorium is host for the rest of the evening, covering all the bases from jazz to hip hop and punk to reggae. There’s even a specially crafted lager on sale.
London-based hip-hop outfit Jungle Brown are a tasked with opening the night in the main space. They offer a nostalgic blend of hip hop and jazz that feels custom created for record shop sound-systems. Lead by rappers Maear and A Boy Called Ric, they have a sprightly energy that isn’t knocked by the initially low turnout. They bring the room excellently into life with impressive energy. It is genuinely refreshing to hear the double bass used to drive classic boom-bap hip hop beats, calling back to the best parts of Q-Tip’s legendary production.
Signalling their intent, this is then followed by 90s garage and a dancehall-inspired groove they freestyle over with equal ease – even if there is a hanging sense of sonic nostalgia they can’t quite escape. A trap track that follows is perhaps one switch too far, where a push for eclecticism falls short to a slight Atlantan parody. It does seem, though, that they bring a genuine sense of appreciation and excitement on stage to a genre that feels often lacking in it, often cracking jokes in between songs. They pick up an evening from what begins too much like a networking event.
The main credit to the evening is its diversity.
Later in the evening, Hollie Cook brings reggae to the party with her soft falsetto over thankfully not-overdone dub – an easy pitfall of live reggae. She is harmonised almost constantly by her backing band to good effect, lacing her naturally gentle tone with airy depth. It counters the low end well, even if her voice does sometimes get lost in the layers. She is a quiet but enjoyable presence on stage, enjoying every note as much as those dancing to her. The Skints that follow are a clearly popular outfit. Their ability to blend reggae/ska verses with punk rock choruses is impressive, if often difficult to adjust to at the frequency that they come at.
It’s hard not to feel a sadness at how tragically underused Brighton Dome is as a live music venue. It could certainly do with more of these sort of events – perhaps at a later time and at a softer price. The space is perfect for mr bongo’s ethos, though, with an effortlessly impressive main space that isn’t seen enough by the music-loving masses as it is tonight.
The main credit to the evening is its diversity. The driving force behind this year’s Brighton Festival set out by guest director Rokia Traoré is to bring stories from around the world to town, and too promote global/non-eurocentric stories and histories, and this is an excellent distillation of such an ethos.
By the later hours the dome is really packed out and starting to take off. Cue the true highlight of the evening, Moses Boyd. Once finished purely admiring his skill, you can begin to take in the genuine creative innovation Boyd is so well known for across the capital and the country. Rhythmically throbbing throughout, he is everything the new London jazz scene is all about: effortlessly blending genres, tempos and instruments into one infectious sound. Funk, Dub, Breakbeat, Afrobeat and Garage-like rhythms can all pass for the same unifying vision, where he is constantly changing the beat but never to any jarring effect.
Backed by excellent instrumentation, tonight he is joined by Alto Sax, Trombone, Electric Guitar and Rhodes Keys – all of which find time to solo impressively. He destroys any image of jazz as the floating, basement-trapped, old-bloke-adorned room, as each track is adored by most in the room, many moving to the groove more than they would on a night out. Sometimes he even breaks in to a captivating solo, but words on that are best saved for sight. Not afraid to woo either, gentler songs are a genuine treat as brass hooks slide between Boyd’s ever-compelling pulse.
Added to the endlessly varying live and mixing talent, you do leave width a sense that Mr Bongo managed to achieve its eclectic vision for the evening. What a thrill.