Published Jul 08, 2014Queen City's The Cultural Exchange showcased a variety of cultural and musical influences with their line-up of Blondfire (formerly Astaire) and Kongos.
By the few people singing along, it was obvious most of the crowd did not know Blondfire — a band influenced by Brazilian music, and sounding a bit like popular indie pop bands like Bastille — going into the concert. It could have been awkward. After the first applause from the stiff audience, the slight panic in vocalist/guitarist Erica Driscoll's eyes subsided, and was replaced by a warm thank you to all the fans. Those sitting in the velvet theatre seats in the back and in the lounge beside the stage of the venue eventually relaxed into their seats and tapped along, whooping for Erica's skill with her new, white electric guitar, and nodding along.
Most Canadians have only heard Kongos singles in the last year, but the band's been topping South African charts since 2012 and receiving radio air play in the United States since early 2013. The Exchange's packed 100-square foot dance floor showed we're finally catching up on the band. With traces of folk music to Burundi drums, the Beatles, Pakistani and jazz music, reggae and rap evident in their music, it's clear the Kongos brothers are influenced not only by their artist father and their Greek, South African and American roots.
To call Kongos' music tribal or jungle rock is dismissive (you haven't heard the accordion until you've witnessed a live accordion solo by Johnny Kongos — see "Take Me Back" for a taste); the brothers prefer to quote the South African DJ Fresh, who called their music "like folk music with nuts" (check out Kongos' mini documentary for more on that). Their sound leaves an impression, to be sure.
The band promised to make the already sweaty and stuffy Exchange room as hot as South Africa before the end of the night, and they succeeded. Their new single, "I'm Only Joking," delivered a floor board thumping response with its infectious beat, and the good mood just got bigger and better from there.
MC Moe'z Art came out rapping to a Kongos-remixed version of the Beatles' "Come Together," to which the crowd responded with cheers and whistling. The end of the Kongos set, "Come With Me Now," was met with a deafening roar. The band's future is all but assured; the lyrics, sound and most certainly the performance is there.