Music review: Back2Black Festival at Old Billingsgate Market

Macy Gray, Roots Manuva and Femi Kuti perform at eclectic festival celebrating African music via Rio de Janeiro

As the capital sloshes through a complete washout of a summer, the Barbican may well have hit on something with Back2Black – a guaranteed mud and rain free festival.

The venue was Old Billingsgate Market, which has a beautiful facade, but feels a little bit like a convention centre inside.

Nevertheless, the packed crowd brought the festival spirit with them and at the back of the main room couples lay on the black felt tiled floor and groups of dread-locked youngsters sat cross-legged in circles drinking cider.

Curated by the Barbican, the three day festival originated in Brazil and is a celebration of African roots in music and culture, with a genre-dodging programme featuring such luminaries as Macy Gray, Roots Manuva and Gilles Peterson.


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There was an African market in residence offering food, arts and crafts, books, beauty products, clothes and more.

Apart form the main stage, there was the sinister-sounding vault stage in the basement of the building, and the impressive terrace stage. The latter was outside on the banks of the Thames and offered a stunning backdrop of the new shard building as well as Tower Bridge.

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We headed down on the Saturday night and saw the lively MC Criolo link up with legendary Ethiopian percussionist Mulatu Astatke, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with their luxurious Latin beats.

Then Femi Kuti, son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, strode masterfully through an uptempo set interspersed with pearls of wisdom and messages of love.

Downstairs, the sounds of Gomanchi gave me the opportunity to wow the rest of the audience with my samba dancing skills. In my mind at least.

Although I am not completely sold on the venue, Back2Black is a great concept and I look forward to it returning next year.

* Back2Black was at Old Billinsgate Market from Friday June 29 to Sunday July 1

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