It’s been a decade since Akala announced his presence as one of the UK’s most urgent and innovative voices with his first album, It’s Not a Rumour. Since then, in addition to producing a potent musical portfolio, he has diversified into numerous non-musical fields. An activist, teacher, historian, journalist, entrepreneur: it’s difficult to categorise Akala, which is truly refreshing in an increasingly binary industry, where artists are so constrained by their brand that they lack the freedom and confidence to express themselves or step outside the rigid parameters of genre. Akala does both and then some. So, after a decade of forging his own path, he has released a landmark album, 10 Years of Akala, and paired it with a UK tour
It’s more than a celebratory greatest hits tour. The fan-selected collection of tracks feels like a repertoire, a crystallisation of Akala’s work, both in the studio and out. This sense of clarity is compounded by the format of the show. We are presented with a short film of clips from Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and Bruce Lee before the man himself steps on stage. These subversive themes are reminiscent of the ballistic energy of Public Enemy, and a shot of adrenaline seems to course through the Edinburgh crowd as fiery renditions of ‘Electro Livin’, ‘Sun Tzu’ and ‘Absolute Power’ start the evening. He is a natural showman, and uses his commanding, authoritative presence on stage to hypnotise the crowd. Every quick fire lyric is spat with precision, every bar seems to ricochet across the room. Mid-show, he appears in costume as ‘Sir Pompous Peterson’, swinging his cane at the crowd and delivering a savagely satirical headshot at the political elite. This abrupt character change could have easily fallen flat in less accomplished hands, but Akala pulls it off through sheer tongue-in-cheek conviction.
For all the bombastic tunes, the performance is also interspersed with sombre moments of reflection. The intimacy afforded by the small size of The Liquid Room provides the perfect environment with which to deliver the frequent films of civil rights leaders, African scholars and free-thinkers which accompany each song, providing context and reference points. You could have heard a pin drop during ‘Peace’, a melancholic yet furious poem on the cycles of violence that are omnipresent worldwide, which dripped with emotion and frustration. ‘That one even depresses me’ he says at its poignant conclusion before transitioning smoothly into the equally charged ‘Murder Runs the Globe’. Footage of airstrikes, armed conflicts and suited executives of weapons manufacturing darkly smiling at the camera flashes on the screen at the back of the stage throughout. The crowd sense an approaching climax and, not one to disappoint, Akala finishes with a whistle stop tour of his record four Fire in the Booth performances and blistering renditions of the seminal ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Find No Enemy’.
There is a relentless, refined energy to this performance. Akala has encapsulated the essence of his work into 75 minutes of no-holds-barred entertainment. It’s a confident, assured performance, simultaneously merging the classic sound of his early hip hop with the effervescent snap of recent material. Although it commemorates his illustrious career, it never feels nostalgic or dated. If anything, Akala is more relevant now than he’s ever been, an indignant voice that questions and challenges, who refuses play by the establishment rules and who, above all, educates his listeners. There is a sense that this moment in Akala’s career is merely a checkpoint, a formality. There is another ten years still to come.
Guest Reviewer: Louis Walsh
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