Canada Water and culture might not seem to go together like peaches and cream, or bells with a church and a steeple. But step outside the Jubilee Line/ Overground Station at Canada Water, and right next door is the Canada Water Culture Space. This contains a small theatre (150 seats) which is currently hosting a series of one-night shows by different artists in the 13th Annual London African Music Festival. Last night was the turn of Aar Maanta, billed as “the voice of the new generation of Somalis in the UK”. That new generation was strongly represented in the audience. Some of the younger women had dispensed with headscarves and long dresses in favour of jeans and blouses, and were as unabashed as the men in showing their appreciation of the music.
People were still coming into the auditorium when the show was more than half-way through. As Aar Maanta observed, “there is Greenwich Mean Time, there is African Time and there is Somali Time.” The young singer has embraced an eclectic mix of styles, with influences from rock and reggae jostling with traditional Arabic and Somali music. Reflecting this wide range of musical styles, none of the four-piece backing band – guitar, bass, drums and keyboard/ saxophone – actually hails from Somalia. And what great musicians they are! A very tight combo, but virtuosos individually. I particularly enjoyed the drum solos (though, thankfully, they did not go on as long as Ginger Baker’s). The bass player is female, and sometimes the band reminded me of Talking Heads, with the width of their range and the tightness of their performance.
Aar Maanta is a great performer himself, and he had the audience on their feet, dancing to the infectious sound. The evening ended, appropriately enough, with a traditional Somali folk song, for which a lady from the audience was pressed into service. She was not expecting that, but she had obviously performed before, and her duet with Aar Maanta rounded off the evening nicely.
This was a one-off show, but Aar Maanta will be appearing again at the Somali Festival on Sunday 25th October in Bethnal Green. One does not have to be Somali to appreciate his music!