I enjoyed Black Focus very much. Sense the 'but' coming. There is a lot of hype about The Return and much of it is just giddy if understandable contentment and a well meaning desire certainly for second helpings. Sad to say it is not a patch on its predecessor even if it does tap the current ravenous appetite for cosmic and futurist sounds. The new offering just sends me back tiredly to dig out something more substantial from the 1970s, where it would sit fairly comfortably, rather than survive on an endless supply of tasty nibbles. SG   

A place, a feeling, a moment.    

Belfast city’s Fergus Feely on mandocello and vocals (above left), Seán Keane from Caherlistrane in county Galway in the first set on tin whistle, low whistle, harmonica, his very being a vessel for that incredible sean-nós style voice of his, and Connemara’s Pat Coyne, guitar, vocals, playing Ardhowen, Enniskillen on the beautiful warm night of 18 May. Pic: marlbank

The highlights of the first set included Richard Thompson’s ‘Galway to Graceland’, a version of which is above, ‘Waltzing’s For Dreamers’, and ‘The Man From Connemara’. We in the audience were putty in their hands, citizens Keane all. SG

A bolt from the blue. Back in 2011... 
... wearing brightly coloured clothing, with a megawatt smile and just an electric guitar slung laconically over her shoulder for company, Fatoumata Diawara nevertheless packed quite a punch playing solo at the Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell, as she previewed songs from Fatou.

Featuring her vocals and guitar and with guests such as London’s Seb Rochford on the track ‘Bakonoba’ the album was recorded in Paris and London although Diawara was actually born in Ivory Coast and raised in Mali and was Paris-based.

Her voice it struck me back then resembled Rokia Traore’s and her guitar accompaniment had something of the loose twanging bluesy style of a Djelimady Tounkara.

Diawara’s songs were concerned with themes like a woman’s right to choose her marriage partner, or the difficulties Africans face when they leave their homeland, and her style has a plaintiff eerily beautiful way with it that despite the language barrier manages to convey a certain languid emotion which is so effective. Wasn't she so ahead of her time?

Fast forward to 2015...
... this time not a million miles from Clerkenwell, the Barbican, a much bigger crowd and my and how: Fatou was playing the big hall with Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca.

The band had a swaying infectious feel to it driven hard by Fonseca who hammered the keys hard, rocking his body head bobbing up and down at his most exuberant while Diawara’s amazing voice cuts the air like a dagger.

Her startling back-of-the-throat yodelly quickfire rattle punctuating the night air from time to time added an unearthly signature touch sending the crowd wild (you could hear people imitating the unique sound as they left the concert hall later on). Highlights for me were ‘Sowa’, ‘Clandestin’ and ‘Mandela,’ on the latter song, a tribute to Nelson Mandela, Diawara threw off her head scarf, the beads of her hair flying all over her face as she head bobbed joyously.  

May 2018... and Fenfo (Wagram/Montuno). The brand new album. My, my my. 

Stephen Graham 

Playing Hackney Arts Centre, London on 20 November.       

MAY 2018 Late at the Library: Superjam — 50 Years of Radical Words is headlined by The Last Poets with Blur singer Damon Albarn and lead guitarist Graham Coxon guesting plus legendary beat poet Michael Horovitz also on the bill.

Curated by Gearbox, home to Binker and Moses who have Alive in the East on the way, when Horovitz was 80, the King’s Cross label reissued a white vinyl LP limited run of ‘Bankbusted Nuclear Detergent Blues (Jazz Poetry SuperJam #3),’ which the distinguished Beat made with Albarn, Graham Coxon and Paul Weller recorded in 2013. The evening revisits that collaboration. Zena Edwards, poetry performer Salena Godden, Nigerian-born novelist and poet Ben Okri, UK slam champion Joelle Taylor, and visual artist and poet Vanessa Vie + DJ Don Letts are also scheduled to appear. Mary McCartney, who is Macca’s daughter, is photographing during the 18 May event. Details.

Appearing with the acclaimed producer and composer saxophonist Jason Yarde on 9 June is surely our foremost jazz poet singer Anthony Joseph. Expect a Derek Walcott meets Gil Scott-Heron Trinidadian street mix landing in a Linton Kwesi Johnson London moment. For the mind and body. Venue