Muyiwa & Riversongz at Hammersmith Apollo
Packing out the Hammersmith Apollo is no mean feat by anybody’s standards. With their fourth album about to be released and an ever growing audience in the UK, Europe and Africa, Muyiwa & Riversongz – currently one of the country’s most highly-regarded Gospel acts – had not only a full house but an audience that was ecstatic before the lights had even dropped.
A mixed bag of support acts opened the show, ranging from belting gospel divas to something akin to watching your dad doing karaoke. The crowd were suitably roused though, and after a short interval Muyiwa & Riversongz took to the stage.
It was instantly apparent that there was a unique creative twist to the music of Muyiwa & Riversongz. A large band with an interesting mix of percussion, powerful vocalists and energetic performers, their blend of soul, gospel, African rhythms and R&B was certainly eclectic and, for the most part, engaging. Muyiwa’s charisma was undeniable and indefatigable and it was easy to see why the crowd adored him with such elation. There was thoughtfulness at times to the songs that tastefully countered the overall joyous tone of the show and brought an unexpected reflective feel. Despite the energy of the set it was these moments that somehow stood out as musically the strongest, and revealed Muyiwa to have talents beyond that of a savvy showman but also of a skilled musician with creative flair.
The title of the show – All Around the World – was indeed rather apt. Starting the show with an Indian chant, moments of salsa, reggae and jazz all appeared in the mash up of musical styles. Furthermore it was all delivered with ease. None of the references to musical cultures felt awkward or forced, even when the styles were perhaps on paper somewhat at odds. This undoubtedly speaks of the calibre of the musicians as they seamlessly merged contrasting styles into a full and powerful blend that felt familiar yet unique.
Though the energy of the band was a force to be reckoned with and the enthusiasm of the crowd never waned, the fieriness of the performance failed to keep the show interesting and by the halfway point, with no real surprises left in store, it was hard for enthusiasm alone, of band and crowd alike, to keep the set engaging. Furthermore, for every song that had a unique and musically intriguing quality – presumably what the band’s website is referring to when it claims to have “breathed life into what some critics had thought was dry barren land when referring to support for Gospel music in the UK” – there was another that sounded tacky and dated, like the insipid Here and Real.
The audience undoubtedly got what they came for and left with their appetite for powerful contemporary gospel well and truly sated. Muyiwa certainly knows how to inspire a crowd and his skill at holding them in the palm of his hand is world class. However, even though British gospel is revitalizing, true musical innovation is still waiting in the wings, though not out of his reach.
Photo: Courtesy of Muyiwa & Riversongz
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