Dave Okumu Shares The Black Experience In The Round

“I’ve been making records for a long time and I feel like it’s an immense privilege to do that. What are we without our stories, we’re made of them and we have to share them and I feel very lucky to be able to do that through the medium of music.” Wise, yet humble, words spoken tonight from an inspired storyteller that it was my privilege to have known for a brief time when we were, ourselves, young men influenced by the world around us as we attended high school in central London alongside other young people of all different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and politics.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

Dave Okumu is probably known best for his band The Invisible and the impact his deep and wispy voice atop delicious guitars and beats made in contention for the 2009 Mercury Music Prize with the group’s eponymous debut. But with his second solo record I Came From Love, released just last week, the South Londoner of Kenyan heritage (via Vienna, Edinburgh & Paris) dives deep into the black experience as well as embracing the place of love he was personally borne of, recognising the truly special gift emparted to him by his parents and the “7 Generations” of his ancestry while pushing boundaries with music he describes: “as experimental, exploratory, free-thinking and replete with love”.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

For tonight’s one-off performance Okumu has pulled together a 40-strong accompaniment of young singers – the Roundhouse Vocal Ensemble – for which the ask was to “commit to a journey of exploration in sound, in learning and in fellowship”.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

“Isn’t this beautiful?” Okumu offers as he appears on stage shrouded in darkness, accompanied by a collective of musicians as well as the Vocal Ensemble, before the troupe kick off proceedings with I Came From Love cut Eyes On Me, the pre-recorded spoken commentary on race pouring over PA before Okumu’s wispy vocals elevate the piece.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Raven Bush, Dave Okumu & Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne
Raven Bush, Dave Okumu & Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne

Black Firework continues to draw more down from the new record, the funk-infused tune led by a storming bassline, the cacophony of voices from the Vocal Ensemble reverberating around the former train shed venue as Okumu’s guitar work alongside violin and saxophone draw on the experimental.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Raven Bush
Raven Bush

“Thank you so much for being here tonight, it’s such a pleasure to share this music with you and this experience with these incredible people” Okumu offers. “There are so many stories to tell. We’ll get to it” he continues, introducing 7 Generations, the high-tempo synth-driven extended outro changing direction for the tune. 

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

“I realised that I couldn’t tell my story without telling the stories of others, so there are many stories on this record and I hope you all enjoy them and cherish them as much as we do” he says, introducing Blood Ah Go Run, the fast-tempo tune inspired by the 1981 New Cross Fire, once again driven by funk-infused bass and storming beats overlaid with pre-recorded voice and enhanced by the Roundhouse Vocal Ensemble.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

Slow-drive, bluesy Prison puts the focus on Okumu’s guitar chops while vocalist Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne’s, soulful tones more than shine before Amnesia’s understated beats and instrumentation put the 46-year-old band lead’s vocals front and centre.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne
Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne

“It’s one of my favourite things to perform ‘in the round’. It’s such a special feeling, I love this venue, I love playing music, I love playing music for you. I also want to give you permission to do whatever you need to do” he continues before suggesting his audience should stand and dance if they should so desire, shaking off the formality of a seated concert.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu & Anthony Joseph
Dave Okumu & Anthony Joseph

Okumu then welcomes British-Trinidadian poet Anthony Joseph to the stage along with his nephew – “The most handsome, talented, beautiful person in the world” – who, as it turns out, is no slouch on guitar either. “What can I say, it’s a family affair”.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Anthony Joseph
Anthony Joseph

“What did you guys think of Yazmin Lacey?” Okumu asks, to cheers of appreciation from the crowd. “What about the guitarist though?” he smiles, referring to his own appearance during her opening set, chuckles rippling across the Roundhouse crowd.

Yazmin Lacey @ Roundhouse

Yazmin Lacey
Yazmin Lacey

Funky My Negritude is next, Joseph clearly passionate with his delivery of a spoken word  accompaniment featuring an excerpt from Aime Cesaire’s 1939 poem Notes On A Return To My Native Land, just as he delivers on the recorded version of the I Came From Love cut. Okumu switching to bass guitar.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

A gentle, off-beat guitar and keys-led interlude decorated with violin and saxophone breaks up the hard-hitting pieces before Joseph takes centre-stage once more with Scenes, facing racism head-on: “we can not be sent back” the poet states repeatedly, “we cannot be sent back by rail or royal mail”. The Cinematic Orchestra man Nick Ramm’s keyboards adding a jazz undertone.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Reggae-infused Abaka includes a recorded vocal overlay we later learn is the actual voice of Dom Abaka: “I have a very dear friend, he looks after my locks. He’s locktition, he’s an artist, but he’s more than that” Okumu explains. “He’s such a special person, and an amazing storyteller. He shared the story of how he found out about his ancestry and reclaimed his name. The voice you were listening to was him.”

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

An almost Middle Eastern sound emanates from the stage next, as Debebe-Dessalegne’s vocals and increasingly distorted sounds converge for album closer Streets, the experimental tune progressing through stages that envelope Okumu’s vocals with nod-along beats and have the Camden crowd moving in unison before it transcends further into a funk-inspired jazz affair.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Raven Bush & Dave Okumu
Raven Bush & Dave Okumu

“It wasn’t easy finding a way to tell these stories, but I really appreciate you listening. We all need to be heard, it’s legit. I’m up for listening to you and I thank you for listening to me” he continues as the funky bass riff of The Cost bounces around The Roundhouse, blending directly into The Struggle. Set-opener Eyes On Me, with it’s1980’s synth-pop-tinged keys adding sparkle, is offered a reprise. “Thank you so much, this has been such a beautiful night.”I can’t believe it’s over, I want to do the whole thing again” he laughs, before suggesting we might be in place for a week should he thank everyone he’d like to.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

Okumu thanks the Roundhouse Vocal Ensemble as he shares: “This choir didn’t exist in its current form until a couple of months ago and I can’t believe how they’ve given themselves to this process”

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Roundhouse Vocal Ensemble with Eska Mtungwazi
Roundhouse Vocal Ensemble with Eska Mtungwazi

“There are so many of us, if we leave and come back on … can we just play you one more song?” Okumu asks of his audience to cheers, the troupe breaking into A Paradise, the song which features the album’s title.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

Experimental music at it’s most relatable, I Came From Love is clearly a product of passion for Okumu, and tonight highlights just how enjoyable and rewarding it is to listen, be immersed in, and dance along to musical compositions that aren’t caught up in the tropes of the majority of contemporary music being pumped out today.

Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse

Dave Okumu
Dave Okumu

Dave Okumu will bring his 7 Generations show to Rally in London’s Southwark Park on 5th August before playing Gilles Peterson’s We Out Here Festival in Wimborne St. Giles, Dorset later that month.

Live review and photography of Dave Okumu @ Roundhouse by Kalpesh Patel on 20th April 2023.

https://rockshotmagazine.com/self-esteem-brings-pop-mastery-to-hammersmith/

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