The word ginormous doesn’t even cover the huge, monstrous set that Agbeko had pushed forward on the fourteenth of July at Manchester’s heritage and popular jazz bar, Band On The Wall. Eyes were opened, cow bells were rang, energetic dancing ensued, disbeliefs were conquered. And for all of those who doubted the popularity of Manchester’s own Afrobeat piece, including individual members of the band, well – they were quite possibly left blinded and speechless by the outstanding and blistering support from old and new fans.
For those on stage that night, moments of utter disbelief must have qualified for emotions – members of Agbeko repeatedly reminded the frenzied audience that they had not expected such a turnout, in fact, they mentioned that when the creation of their project came along, it was perceived as more of a joke or side project to occupy themselves. So, when Jamie Stockbridge, the groups apparent frontman and tenor saxophonist stood on that stage, crowded by fellow band members, in front of a sold-out venue; he must have known or thought: “Shite, things are getting quite serious.”
And why shouldn’t they be getting serious? With such tight musicianship, extraordinary side talents (for example, the art of throw and catch) and such a unique internationalist sound, why on Earth should things not be looking up for just one of the many musically diverse acts in the city. Sure, their debut EP, ‘Unite’ wasn’t exactly perceived as something containing one hundred percent emotion, but the roots of afrobeat, the genre Agbeko have aligned themselves with, has always been manufactured for more of a live, active dancing, community thing.
It was these roots that Agbeko had managed to embrace, rumours of ‘Unite’ being solely cultural misappropriation were put to rest and any single individual still in that frame of mind in that room wouldn’t have had a lone clue about what exactly was occuring. See, afrobeat in the seventies through to the near modern day wasn’t precisely about ‘the drums going bang’ or ‘the sax soaring away into an albatross flight’ or anything like that – it was more to do with solidarity through hardship. Fela Kuti (and now his son, Seun Kuti) used music with African folk instruments to fight against oppression from the government and from the west and also to promote pan-Africanism.
In total, Agbeko’s set is, in a bizarre way, relative to a bulldozer carrying twenty plus people, crashing through a privately-owned golf course, with added measures of unity. And shortly before performing their monumental track, ‘Unite’, which bares the namesake of their debut EP, the eleven-pieces highly active vocalist discussed in a tranquil and relaxed manner the need for a decrease in division in current times… all whilst a nearby brass player branded a ‘Corbyn Hope’ t-shirt.
And one more thing, evidently the turnout for Agbeko’s show was phenomenal – as were the groups abilities. However, in comparison to gigs that are often hosted at various other venues, where the turnout for the cities artists are low and consist of supposed fans who are more inclined to show off their taste in edgy, nostalgic Mancunian garage-indie by adding low quality videos to their social media stories; a wild suggestion could be made.
Perhaps Manchester’s nostalgia fuel is beginning to end, and those who do hold dear forms of innovative music are looking elsewhere. Perhaps other forms of internationalist music, without borders, could be the replacement to a dying scene?