It was a brilliant musical concert featuring two South African acts – the world famous southpaw guitarist, Jonathan Butler and the House-Kwaito stars, MI Casa, and one Nigerian neophyte, A’rese, winner of the debut edition of The Voice Nigeria who came well recommended and gave a well applauded performance that showed she was ready to take her place of honour among the stars. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha report

With a distinctive name like ‘A Night at the Kazbah’, the live music concert organised by Lagos-based urban music station, Smooth FM, needed little prodding to sway music lovers to come over for its latest edition last weekend. It may be taken for granted that the radio station had already cultivated a huge followership through its regular weekday mid-afternoon belt that churns out easy to listen and sing along music from around the world. Many of the guests came with knowledge of what to expect. And they were not disappointed.

It was indeed an impressionable tour of beautiful sounds of music from great acts. Going by the limited number of music shows that feature live performances in the country, ‘A Night at the Kazbah’ was a welcome aura in the music industry. Having tested the waters last year with its debut, there was no dilly-dallying at this year’s edition. The organizers demonstrated they had learnt a great deal of lessons and they were set.

By and large, it was apparent the organisers had a clear agenda from the very start: to contribute to the growing efforts to reinvent the live music concert experience. To a large extent, they succeeded. From the packaging of the tickets in tiers that were packed into a free gift of a CD containing songs by the artistes on the bill – a token guaranteed to extend the concert experience into the living room, car and other private space of the concert attendees. The choice of performing acts was another distinct deed executed with a clear clinical precision.

One of the few noticeable flaws was that the stage was bare – bereft of essential aesthetics. The little artistic beautification was made possible by the lights and visual randomization from a super-size screen. The lack of extra viewing screens, caused periodic moments of disorderliness, particularly from the audience who sat at a distance from the stage as they tried to catch a glimpse of the wow moments of the show.

Predictably, the show attracted a mature audience who understand and adore jazz and afro-soul sounds. These genres of music may not boast of teeming number of fans compared to the popular afro hip-hop genre.

Yet, the crowd that gathered at the Balmora Tent of the Federal Palace Hotel and Casino in Victoria Island, Lagos was more than a handful. Perhaps, the turnout could be attributed to the international acts. Nevertheless, it was a good sign for the organisers. Early birds at the venue had to wait for just an hour which was clearly taken care of by the baptismal drinks from Belvedere and Hennessy. That time was nothing compared to a five or six hour late start which is associated with Nigerian events. Of course, the paparazzis were in full swing, clicking away at smiling faces on the red carpet.

Sponsored by Guaranty Trust Bank, the music concert somehow ushered in a new and enviable relationship in the media. Unlike the past when media organisations hardly collaborated or supported one another’s programme, Smooth FM turned the pages by lobbying support from four radio stations in its niche: Inspiration, Classic, Beat and Cool FM, thus bringing about a new day in Nigeria’s broadcast history.

But the concert’s trump card was clearly in its array of performing artistes. For a show that had just three acts and lasted for nearly four hours, it was a good testimony to the organisers’ shrewdness. The show pulled strings with its choice artistes to entertain the distinguished audience, particularly with A’rese, its opening act. But what followed was arguably a misperception of the audience that could have been taken care of with a little bit more of sagacity.

True, Jonathan Butler, the southpaw guitar wizard from South Africa is an icon in his own right, but more people came to the concert to see his compatriots, the wave making trio, MI Casa. It would have been perfect wisdom to bring Butler in the middle and have MI Casa close the show, to avoid a sizeable number of the concert crowd taking their leave after they had seen MI Casa. That is not to say that Butler did not impress. Of course, he gave the show of his life!

A’rese, winner of the debut edition of The Voice Nigeria was a delicious appetiser to kick-off the show. Having been off the radar since the competition, there were lots of questions on the mind of her fans. At the press briefing the previous day, A’rese hinted on performing her original songs at the concert. She waltzed into the stage with her elegant figure but seemed a bit edgy. The concert was her first public performance since the show so it explained her nervousness. This was unlike the musical (dance drama) space that she ruled-taking lead roles in many of Bolanle Austen-Peter’s productions.

But she needn’t worry too much about her performance because by the time she released a high-pitch note of ‘Palava’ made popular by the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, audience members were already at home with her. Despite the applause, A’rese felt the urgent need to interact with the audience – a kind of assurance that she was on the right track. One could easily understand her anxiety, particularly with her choice genre of music: afro soul, which is slowly gaining fans in the industry.

Steadily, she dazzled the audience with her own songs, starting with her first recording ‘No More’. This piece was a hybrid of jazz and soul, perfectly blended to evoke a love emotion. She enhanced her performance with the fluid motion of her arms, and body, a good pointer of her prowess as a stage performer.

Her next performance was ‘Udu’ (courage), it is her latest song. Again, she captured the audience with her voice and melodies. Her vocal chords were simply magical, and the lyrics were like poetry. With her performance, it was very clear that a new Queen of Soul has been born. All thanks to the ‘The Voice Nigeria’.

Switching moods, she performed her winning song at the music contest, ‘Hallelujah’. The audience couldn’t resist singing along. For special effect, the stage was transformed to a kaleidoscope of dazzling lights and visuals. She confessed to the audience that she was trying hard not to cry because the song meant a lot to her. She had revealed to THISDAY Glitterati during an interview last August that the song meant a lot to her father whom she shares a special bond with.

To round off her session, A’rese performed another song from her stable ‘Ojomi’, an upbeat Afrojazz that holds the promise of a smash hit. The song, according to the songstress, captures her new-found status. The interlude of percussion and the chorus singing of ‘Kekedikeke’ gave the song a memorable rhythm.
To a great ovation, A’rese introduced the Classical Band that played with her before bowing out.

After a 25-minute wait, the trio from South Africa, MI Casa were introduced on stage. J-Something, the only white guy in the group plunged into a ballad version of their single ‘La Vida’ before Mo-T and Dr. Duda captivated the crowd with an explosion of beautiful sounds from the trumpet and the wheels of steel, resounding their unique house music signature.

It was difficult to say who the star of the group is. Each was an expert in his own field. Nicknamed the Beyonce of the group, Dr. Duda, originally a DJ and now the producer of the group who also doubles as a saxophonist, ensured that each of their production was a smash hit with the constant Kwaito beat, peculiar to South African’s house music. Mo-T on the other hand is a blessing to the group. The wonders he performed with his trumpet was simply outstanding. His ability to hold a note for long, stir conversations as well as evoke great emotions make him an endearing personality.

Already blessed with white skin and good looks, J-Something as odd as he may look in the group, was the voice of the group. He did all the talking, dancing and the singing. His charming charisma and exceptional voice gave him a disarming aura. But his hat-trick was his dance moves. He called it ‘Jika’, also a title of one of their hits. It was still a novelty to many who watched him move his waist and legs like a pro, particularly when he performed the dance-title track.

He narrated how they were invited to Washington DC to perform at President Barack Obama’s second inaugural party. They were just two years into their music career. At first, their booking lady thought it was a prank when she first got the call but it later turned out to be real. It was really an awkward position for the group whose name was foreign to their American audience, but by the time they saw a white guy dancing and performing with the black guys, they rocked to their sound and the rest was history. The song that did it for them was ‘Jika’.

It was not the only real-life story about MI Casa. J-Something revealed as much about the group as time would permit in between performances. Starting with how they met at a party where Dr. Duda was DJing and Mo-T was playing the trumpet. He had walked and impressed by what he heard, he asked if he could sing along. Their performance caught on with the audience immediately. They sent the crowd into a frenzy. After their performance, people swarmed them, asking for the release date of their album. Everything took them by surprise. Three months later, they were in the studio working together. All this happened in 2011. This acceptance encouraged them to forge a bonding; and the rest, as they say, is history.

For the night, Mi Casa took the audience on a rollercoaster of their music. From sampling hits like D’banj’s ‘Oliver Twist’, P-Square ‘Personally’, the late Brenda Fassie’s ‘Vuli Ndlela’, Reel 2 Real’s ‘ I Like to Move it’, Freshlyground’s ‘Doo be Doo’ to their own hit tracks like ‘These Streets’, and their latest collaborations with Yemi Alade and Wizkid. J-Something took the music to a mellow mood when he performed ‘My Body’. He compared the song to Patoranking’s ‘My Woman’.

The inspiration behind the song he told the captivated audience was from the frequent objectification of the woman’s body in music videos. This, he said, was wrong because a woman counts for more than just money and sex. He was lauded by the women in the audience as he called them princesses and mocked the guys. Then he sang the beautiful poetic lyrics, defining a woman’s body in an artistic way which drew cheers and clap from the ecstatic audience.

He went on to commend Nigerians for how they treat their musicians. They rounded off their session with a brilliant foreplay from the percussion, the guitar, the keyboard and of course, a delicious treat from the shortest man in the group, Mo-T.
The sky must have been moved by their performance because while they were still on stage, it began to cry. Unfortunately for the organisers, the Bamoral tent had some holes and guests were seen leaving their seats.

One of the hosts and presenter on Smooth FM, The Genie apologised for the leaking roof and indulged the audience to get more drinks while the headline act of the night prepared for his performance. It wasn’t quite like dancing in the rain, but the leaking roof in parts of the hall couldn’t subtract from the enjoyment of the determined audience.

It was supposed to be a 30-minute wait but it was less than that. South African renowned guitarist, singer and song-writer, Jonathan Butler, was more than a performer in the concert. He was so exuberant and infectious on stage that one could easily get lost in his music.

He anchored a jazzy piece ‘Many Faces’, introduced his band and told the audience about his love for peppersoup, which well, left him full and with a grumbling gut. He didn’t forget to mention that he was sporting the Nigerian designer Mudi’s outfit.
He went on to perform a jazzy rendition of the late Miriam Makeba’s ‘Pata Pata’, then lunged into a brilliant display on strings.

The conversations he stirred with his guitar were very diverse. Sometimes, they were slow-paced and intimate, at other times they were fast and aggressive. His dexterity on the guitar could never be exaggerated. It was simply superb.

However, Butler had a mission on his mind: to spread the gospel of Jesus through jazz. He started praising Jesus along the line and urged the audience to experience the spirit of God in him. Hopefully, he prayed, a soul may be saved. It was difficult to say if members of the audience who left during his performance, took their exit because of his faith or were in a hurry to get home.

That didn’t deter the musician who went on to perform ‘7th Avenue’ and would later urge the audience to get on their feet as he performed ‘Lies’.
His masterstroke at the concert was when he performed his smash hit love ballad ‘Do you love me?’.

The atmosphere of love engulfed the tent. His engagement with the crowd made many lonely heart long for love.
He proceeded to perform Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and got the audience singing along. His interpretation of this song was something else.

By the time he performed ‘Catembe’, Mo-T was back on stage with his trumpet and together they conversed in melodic rhythms with their instruments, leaving the audience in awe. The entire, MI Casa trio would later return on stage to perform ‘Living my Dream’ with the guitarist, after he performed ‘Falling in Love with Jesus’. Evidently, a collaboration will surely be in the works between the two acts in the future.

After a nearly one-and-a-half hour performance, Butler drew the curtain on the concert. It didn’t matter if the hall was almost half-empty at the end of his performance, as long as the guests left good comments like ‘It was a beautiful show’ on their way out to the wet grounds.