It was a privilege to watch this 12-piece dub/afrobeat/hip-hop group play at the Brixton Jamm. Before the night, I had only heard their recent single – ‘Work House’, which is a badass, well-produced, modern neo-soul classic, reviewed previously on Lost In The Manor. So while I was excited about their set, I didn’t quite know what to expect. ‘Work House’, it turns out, is not that representative of their live show. The song is a masterpiece, but compared to the rest of their set, somewhat conventional. Nubiyan Twist’s live show was an intense afrobeat, jazz party/workout with long improvised passages. From the start it was clear that none of the members had let their obvious talent go to their heads. All 12 smiled unpretentiously as they created a groove that invited us all to join their party. The African rhythms took hold of us and no-one could help dancing despite the Brixton Jamm being so rammed that we could barely move. This was a completely inclusive relationship between band and audience: the glue between the two entities was the hypnotic afrobeat groove, taking hold of everyone’s consciousness like a drug. She emerged gracefully from the shadows a few minutes into the first song, sidling between the keyboard player and the brass section to her place behind the microphone. With a look that could be described as somewhere between African Queen and Geisha, Nubiya Brandon used her long fingers and slender arms to form shapes in the air – looking like she could have come from an art-nouveau painting. Sassy yet elegant, feline yet powerful, Brandon cut an imposing figure on stage. However, what charmed about her performance was her lack of ego in terms of her place in the band. She oozed style and confidence, but as the frontwoman of Nubiyan Twist, saw herself as firmly being a part of the collective, and let all the other performers shine equally. Within the framework of the groove, each performer was given a canvas on which to explore new territory in their solos. I particularly enjoyed Oliver Cadman’s keyboard solos, with spiky left hand chords climbing through unexpected changes, and a nimble and innovative right hand. Denis Skully’s explorations on the tenor saxophone were imaginative and reminiscent of Coltrane. It was also a thrill to have Tom Davison on the decks, whose scratching and use of effects brought an urban dimension to their sound. Standing in the darkness on the far left of the stage stood Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Pill Adami, who was on percussion and vocals throughout most of the set. In a subtle way he seemed to conduct the collective, with his perfect sense of rhythm and impassioned vocals. Nubiya had already dedicated one of their songs to Fela Kuti, but for their encore, Pilo Adami slung a guitar over his shoulder and took to the centre of the stage to lead the band through Fela Kuti’s ‘Gentleman’. I bought the Nubiyan Twist CD and I can’t stop playing it. The performances are immaculate and the production tasteful. But every time a soloist gets going on one of the tracks, I just want it to continue. Listening to the record makes me want to see them live, to witness that incredible energy, that synergy of forces, the wild solos and to be a part of that Nubian Twist party again.
Words by Charlie Hannah. Read more by Charlie at The Dentist