Tony Benjamin (venue.co.uk) Sat, 26 Oct 2013
It’s just gone 11pm and we’re stood around in Trinity waiting for the headline act to appear – nothing unusual about that, but what’s more unexpected is that the bar shut about half an hour ago because almost nobody was interested. We’re waiting for Aar Maanta, one of the few Somali musicians active in the UK and the only one prepared to take a live act on the road.
The almost exclusively Somali audience is disappointingly small and this may reflect the ambivalence of many Muslims to music and secular performances. But what they might lack in numbers they more than make up for in enthusiasm and, in the case of the women, brilliantly colourful outfits. The men, wearing more conventional Western casual clothes, line the wall and leave the dancefloor to their exuberant and stylish sisters. Prince Abdi is pretty exuberant, too, bounding onstage for a brisk comedy routine before the music starts. Slipping smoothly between Englisjh and Somali he woos the crowd with a mix of self-deprecating jokes about his own culture and observational stuff about the UK. He gets plenty of laughs, and, despite an edgy exchange with a male audience members apparently defending a female cousin from his attempts at audience engagement, sets a friendly atmosphere for the main act.
Aar Maanta’s effect on the ladies is much more apparent, however, as the female audience clusters stagewards in the first number. “I’m here to have a good time!” he declaims and so, it seems, are they. The band sound is nicely dominated by articulate hand drum and swooning violin/guitar interplay, the rhythms varying from slinky North African to choppy rerggae and a couple of grandstand funk numbers, with Aar Maanta’s soulful vocals soaring over them all. It’s a fine voice, too, with the dusty echo of desert dust colouring the sweetness of his tone. The dancing women seem to know all the words and greet each number with whoops of recognition, culminating in a fine encore of album title track ‘Hiddo and Daqqan’ that starts in the Somalian desert, slips easily to the Caribbean before rounding off in a New York disco.
Aar Maanta is an accomplished performer and this music deserves the wider audience that next year’s festival season should surely give him. (Tony Benjamin)
Copyright Tony Benjamin 2013