London African Gospel Choir are bringing their interpretation of Paul Simon’s Graceland to Brighton Dome this November.
Is this a sort of homecoming? Having sold out the Brighton Dome this time last year, there’s more synergy between Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Gospel Choir than meets the eye.
Paradoxically, Paul Simon is on record as saying he could not explain the desire to travel to Memphis, Tennessee, at the time of writing his seminal album and more so that he was unsure if he could even justify including the song. So I start off by asking Al Kassi, LAGC founder and agent, if there is any similarity? “They like us here, I guess we put on a good show last year,” Al says. “They were keen to have us back.”
It’s a tall order to take on reproducing an album live, which has sold more than 16 million copies and was recorded with some of Africa’s flagship musicians. But having seen the show earlier this month, London African Gospel Choir crucially add a broader vocal range from baritone to soprano and also manage to inject more emotion into the heartfelt messages, such as their haunting delivery of ‘Homeless’.
There’s no doubt about it, Graceland gives the choir a fantastic opportunity to showcase a multi-instrumental ensemble but this is no one-trick pony. There’s some original compositions included, which stamp their own identity on the show with some playful banter courtesy of the charismatic Derek Kiteke, who does much of the interaction with the audience.
The choir were originally commissioned to perform Graceland by the famous Jazz Cafe in London and have not looked back since, touring up and down the country in recent months. So I wonder what it’s like for Al Kassi to watch from the sidelines?
“I never tire of it,” he tells me. “Because of the depth of the choir there is always something new to notice.”
We chat further and he explains that it’s become more of a collective due to band members interchanging at times. “It keeps us fresh as a new member of personnel brings something different to our show.”
Al Kassi was the founder member of the choir some 16 years ago yet his irrepressible energy and sunny disposition are both remarkable and infectious. He is keen to impress on me the nuance of African Gospel music.
He tells me “our vision is to build an institution” and adds “our ethos is to bring singers and musicians together to learn African Gospel music and teach them a skill. It’s empowering.”
So what next? Well, London African Gospel Choir are gaining attention from far afield and they are off to Monte Carlo Jazz Festival in early December with another tour of the US planned for 2020.
London African Gospel Choir perform at The Dome on Friday, November 15 (8pm), £27). Tickets available here.
The album Mercy is available via the choir’s website shop.
Stuart Large is a freelance writer and reviewer. Follow him on Twitter @boyaboutsound.
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