We already know that festivals are very popular but the single day event seems to be garnering more and more interest. Who really needs to camp and spend days without washing! Enter the inaugural one day soul and jazz fest of Cross The Tracks (stylised as XTheTracks) held at Brockwell Park in South London.
Exciting young artists were the first acts to grace the stages and in Tertia May you might be able to hear a little of the late Amy Winehouse. When she pairs her beautiful soulful voice with a live band then great things happen. She released her first EP Kind Of Purple in May 2018 and performed a selection of old and new tracks including the single Twenty Two of her upcoming second EP Not From Concentrate.
Set closer track Monsters In Your Bedroom creates a stir as much for May’s vocals as it does for the appreciation of the performance of the band including a killer guitar solo.
Sound problems didn’t stop the Children Of Zeus duo of Tyler Daley and Konny Kon from producing a great set and perhaps the technical engineers did not expect so many spectators at five to two in the afternoon. Someone in their sound department clearly had never seen Spinal Tap as it was pretty clear the volume was not turned up to eleven.
The Manchester group repeatedly said they wanted everyone to really feel the bass and the beats of the music and were begging the sound technicians to turn up their backing tracks. Those toward the front really caught the vibe but if you were further back you might have lost it.
Tyler’s smooth vocal performance coupled with Konny Kon’s flow on fan favourites The Story So Far, Still Standing and Smoke With Me showed their differing vocal dexterity. I Want You which contains a sample of Roy Ayers’ Everybody Loves The Sunshine had everyone nodding their heads and singing along.
Their album Travel Light was in my top ten albums of 2018 and album favourite Slow Down was another highlight to fantastic performance. The atmosphere inside the Ghost Notes Rail Yard tent was electric and it was just half past two in the afternoon!
I double back on myself to the City Splash stage for another quick turnaround for Teshay Makeda. She calls the music she creates and performs “Root Soul“ and she most certainly warrants the crown of future Queen of this genre.
Her new single OMG! amassed the biggest roar as she got the crowd to help her out and sing along. Her set also included a cover of Ella Mai’s Boo’d Up and a song called Moving Forward; a duet with London based rapper Lil Trubz who joined her on stage to perform the charity single that they released to support local musical project called Finding Rhythms.
July 14th marks Martha Reeves 78th birthday, yes you read that right 78! But nothing was going to stop her giving a sublime performance bringing a slice of Motown to South London. She gave a moving tribute to Marvin Gaye, telling the adoring crowd how The Vandellas had once upon a time been backing vocals to him early on in both their careers. They performed his seminal track What’s Going On before launching into their 60s hits Heatwave and the Gaye penned Dancing In The Street as the group confirmed the adage that age is purely just a number.
The un-assuming Jordan Rakei stood at the back of the stage at the “keys” decked out in a plain white t shirt and sunglasses. It’s obvious that he’s not too bothered about image. He was one of the few acts that the sun cared to come out for as Rakei went straight into a brand new song Mind’s Eye from his upcoming album Origin.
The album is about a dystopian future influenced by visions of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and we’ll be looking forward to hearing this new expansive sci-fi narrative when his third album comes out on June 14th.
Other set highlights included Wildfire and Say Something. He stepped to the front of the stage to pick up the guitar to perform Nerve off of 2017s Wallflower which has the powerful refrain “How can I find a reason to love you, when I don’t love myself“. He then went into his 2014 early funky favourite Add the Bassline from early EP Groove Curse .
Perhaps best known for his collaborations in the last 18 months with Tom Misch, Loyle Carner and Alfa Mist, now it’s Rakei’s turn to be the centre of attention and rightly so as he has so much talent and create vivid soundscapes in his own right.
At about five-ish founding member of Soul II Soul Jazzie B graced the Cross The Tracks Junction stage produced a fantastic DJ set full of funk, soul and reggae. It gave many a chance to let themselves go and dance to some classic tunes.
Fresh off the back of their latest album Trust In The Life Force Of The Deep Mystery, The Comet Is Coming showed off their genre-defying music. They manage to integrate jazz, psychedelia, electronica and funk to give you a sonic experience few could match.
One third of Comet is saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings a member also of Mercury Prize nominated Sons of Kemet. He was the musical director for the 2018 jazz album We Out Here, a collection of newly recorded material by some of the London’s brightest talent – many of whom were in attendance today and the 35 year old is highly lauded. Today he was superb on tracks Summon The Fire and Birth Of Creation. Comet really are a powerhouse in the jazz scene and a sight and sound to behold live.
Twenty five minutes into her set Nubya Garcia addresses the crowd for the first time at the end of her second song. Her and the band are just jamming, so free, trading off immense solo’s across the band from keys to double bass to Nubya’s sax. At one point the band leaves the stage and leaves drummer Sam “Barrell” Jones to introduce a track with a two minute solo as to not feel left out.
Her band also included Joe Armon-Jones from Ezra Collective on keyboards and we were treated to 45 minutes of evocative jazz that flew by as they just managed to squeeze in four songs in total, including Hold from her 2017 LP Nubya’s 5ive and a brand new unreleased track Pace.
Described as “Soul with a bit of weird” on her own Facebook page, singer/songwriter Etta Bond bought her laid back RnB vibes to the Freight Place stage. She released a really impressive debut double album earlier this year titled He’s Mine / He’s Not Mine that spawned great tracks such as Let Me Hit It and Shorny. She also collaborated with established names of the rap game Kojey Radical on One Way Down and SiR on More Than a Lover.
Performing on one of the smaller stages, this intimacy only heightened the performance of some of her more vulnerable tracks.
Next up on the main stage was Masego. Perhaps most famous for his jam session with electronic multi-instrumentalist FKJ, their improvised track Tadow has amassed over 136 million views on YouTube. An edited version of the track featured on his 2018 full debut album Lady Lady and it was the song he began his set with. The sax melody immediately drew a hoard of people rushing to get a view of the self styled TrapHouseJazz performer.
Masego at Cross The Tracks (nosa malcolm)His smooth vocals aided his laid back aesthetic, playing fellow album tracks Old Age and Queen Tings as well as Shut Up And Groove from his 2016 Pink Polo EP.
Not just a great vocalist, Masego is a talented saxophonist which showed on You Gon’ Learn Some Jazz Today and the aforementioned Tadow. Having been his birthday the day before he treated us to a couple of tracks off his personal Spotify playlist. “You can tell a lot from someone by what they listen to” he tells the crowd and he proceeds to play Fergie‘s Glamorous. You can make your mind up what that says about him!
The legendary Mikey Dread and MC Ras Kayleb of Channel One sound system closed out the City Splash stage with their eclectic mix of conscious reggae and dubplates which the crowd really got into. Their mission of breaking down barriers via reggae music showed in their diverse fan base who seemed to enjoy every second of their set.
Having been performing for 40 years, their passion and energy is still as high as ever but more importantly they just wanted everyone to have a great time and that they did.
KOKOROKO guitarist Oscar Jerome took to the smaller Freight Place stage just after eight in the evening. Intimate yet full of energy, Jerome showcased his innate talents with gorgeous riffs and effortless solo-ing. The title track to 2018 EP Where Are Your Branches? produced phenomenal solo-ing and as did much of his set.
His guitar playing emanates soulfulness through sound and sight. Jerome’s latest release Misty Head / Sunny Street features producer/DJ Maxwell Owin – who in turn performed with Ezra Collective’s Joe Armon Jones (as mentioned earlier) as a duo on the Ghost Notes Rail Yard stage following Jones’ performance with Nubya Garcia. This shows how tight knit the London scene is but that all of these artists are so talented that either by working together or solo they can deliver incredible music experiences.
As much as some of us were running around surpassing our daily step count getting from stage to stage to experience as much of the music as possible, there was a very chilled out vibe to that came across in the music but also echoed by the activities that Cross The Tracks put on including: vinyl record fairs, vintage clothing, talks, workshops and even yoga. This really was a wholesome inclusive experience that had something for everybody.
By now you’ve been on your feet for over eight hours covering several miles in the process of trying to see as many exciting acts as possible. You’ve sampled the street food and perhaps the craft beer stalls too. You’ve now got two headliners on stages several minutes apart. It’s every festival goers nightmare. I started at one and after several tracks I ran – or more accurately, briskly walked with flailing arms for extra speed (I think it helped) to the second.
I started with American Independent Hip-Hop / Soul duo Oshun named after a deity of beauty and love headlined the Ghost Notes Rail Yard stage bringing their brand of Afrofuturism to South London.
Thandiwe and Niambi Sala who met whilst studying on the same NYU scholarship played a number of tracks of their 2018 record Bittersweet vol. 1, including Burn and the Jorja Smith collaboration My World. Celebrating their African heritage, faith and womanhood the group had quite a following considering they were on at the same time as the main headliner and gave a high energy performance.
The main event Chaka Khan actually came on to the stage early; something that took many people polishing off their dinner by surprise! Despite gracing the same stage in the same park 24 hours earlier for Mighty Hoopla festival Khan, was graceful and vivacious in her performance. She rattled through a 12 song set in just over an hour yet nothing felt rushed and her soulful voice filled Brockwell Park and the surrounding areas with ease.
Stand out tracks of her set included her Grammy award winning Prince cover I Feel For You, I’m Every Woman and the show closer Ain’t Nobody. Towards the end of her set Khan welcomed a little six year old girl up on stage who was holding up a “I heart Chaka“ sign. She gives the little girl the mic but the she declines to sing. About 15 seconds after having the six year old on stage Chaka addresses the people: “I love you so fucking much.” Yes it was a family affair but it was also after the watershed so her parents had better come up with a good excuse when she starts using that word in school!
As well as Through The Fire – perhaps best known in recent times as the sample used in a young Kanye West‘s breakout single Through The Wire, Chaka included several hits from her Rufus days: Sweet Thing, Do You Love What You Feel and Everlasting Love. There was an immense feeling of love during her set; it was like she was emanating peace and happiness to the Brixton faithful.
There was no major drama’s over the course of the day – one slight annoyance was the main stage’s camera work on the two big screen’s either side. But when you’re shaking your hips to Dancing In The Street or I Feel For You then you won’t be looking anyway!
What was great was the amount of acts that were actually natives of London, with over a third of the acts from the top four stages from or based in the capital. Many treated it as a homecoming giving immense energy and the knowledgeable Brixton crowd reciprocated showing their appreciation to these tremendous artists.
In its first year Cross The Tracks managed to create a welcoming experience for all ages. They catered to all palates not just in musical terms but in terms of diet with plenty of vegan street food vendors as well as ethically sourced clothing and biodegradable glitter stalls, banning plastic glitter altogether.
They also committed to a “Leave No Trace” policy whereby every single item dropped or left on the grass would be picked up – no mean feat by any means but with environmental consciousness at the heart of the festival with many recycling points and a plastic glass deposit scheme whereby you could collect 10p for every cup picked up, they practically encouraged you to litter pick for them – I took part and got £1.50 just on my way from the main stage to the cup return point.
Cross the Tracks called themselves “Brixton’s Soul, Jazz and Funk Feast” and by the end of it, boy we were completely full!
Coverage of Cross The Tracks Festival at Brockwell Park, London on 9th June 2019 written by Chris Lambert and photography by Nosa Malcolm.