Recently I was lucky enough to catch a live set from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Fulu Miziki, playing in Hackney Wick in London, the final date of a brief UK tour.
On a night of searing, unreal heat in the Studio 9294 venue Fulu Miziki played, adorned in their ebullient costumes, rendering them as transformed and sprightly beings, though thoroughly rooted and emblazoned in rhythm.
In the magnified heat I become concerned for them in their ferocious and lustrous costumes. They must be boiling alive? And then it dawns on me that they are the heat…
From my initial arrival, just as Fulu Miziki are starting up – I hang back not far from the entrance. While I still have some vague sense of ‘demic – the sight of these roiling and utterly liquid bodies in a mass before the stage has only very minimal appeal so it is from here that I take up the gig.
Among the seething plane of rhythms we hear some startling and luminous vocals, that dance and alight via unexpected notes and timings, a truly African curvature and intelligence that reminds one of exactly what’s what… beautifully so… harmonized and bright… a lightness born of perspective perpetually rooted in the difference of differential and secondary otherness from the northern/western global narratives – and yet even then, it is clear that there is a deeper harmony at work here too between melodic and rhythmic. This is a music about rhythm and everything is fused through the rhythms…
The start feels relatively inauspicious, but I feel rusty in this kind of gig, what is it for again? But then the music is so communicative that things start to come through, the feeling of enjoying and losing oneself to music that is almost contractually high energy. almost as if Fulu Miziki are saying, we are here to break you out! Tonight! Believe it!
I am reminded of the different kinds of gig, those stately, highly mental-emotional concerts where you sit civilised and stationary, to some extent just you and the worlds of your perception and realisation, a chance at something that way. Then suddenly this is a different kettle of fish again… that nagging un-scratched, ill-remembered itch to find a rising wave of music to move with and to. The unrefined gutter-punch out through the sinistral and cavernous motion-spaces of the body.
But its curious how these things go. The sense of the music being so present and intensely energised in the space. Coming from these emotively adorned space-visitors but perhaps because I am rusty, and perhaps because its always a battle to break out and break free from whatever stultifying grip is in play – it is not an immediate kind of thing.
And yet similarly, I am aware that some kind of conversation is going on between the music and my body, with my head idly floating on top like an unhelpful boulder of disjunctions. How can I forget that the music coming through space, is becoming the space and yet when facing it (swimming in it) under such circumstances, even then I need some kind of reminder (which mercifully comes through the music itself) that it can be necessary to discern things from within the music to focus on. Not to try and absorb the entire thing, but to find openings and gaps and emergences marked by their intensity or vibrancy. By how much more easily we feel them and love them and join them and become them.
And for me there it is, a small rhythm sound, quite high in tone – a repeating two note beat that operates inside with a larger rhythmic motif, it is bright and speaks to me . As I tune into it, the rest of the sound becomes transformed and I am hearing much more of the detail, the individual instruments and their players, how they interact and communicate and resonate. It is a kind of break-through.
In between songs there are short conversations and interludes, Fulu Miziki are extremely happy to be able to play for us, they ask if we have animals, dogs and cats? Then we should love them.
At one point there is a plea from them about the importance of feeling free. I am immediately struck by the way there has been a ringfencing around this concept, about how we see it in a kind of fabric of definition of relation to the state. How free are we to do this and that, and yet here I am reminded of it in its deepest sense in a relation to oneself that has defied and evaded our tendencies to impose our own gravity. Reminded too of another sense of freedom, that being a lack of inhibition – and yet I know that what is being referred to also resides simply and profoundly, on being itself in the moment as a feeling whose enacting is always virtually real and whose realisation is defined only by its own necessity, a freedom of spirit encompassing being. It is almost as if at this point and in the dances around it, freedom has become an energetic proposition.
Throughout their set, the venue remains a pulsating, super-heated box of vibrations, there are times when they are not holding the plateau to quite the same effect, but there is always something there in the music to enchant and confiscate unhelpful absences. Sometimes it is the vocals (here missing their sister – who is in the crowd and shouts for them at the end) going from exhortations and dramatic punctuations to rhythmic emphasis. It is in the appearance of their longer and more melodic harmonies that you feel an additional dimension is in play, in conversation with a kind of vortical-pop that parallaxes through dub reggae and gives a sense of how these musics, even in their unique worlds and contexts of production, might be communicating with each other across unknown times.
Their set is quite short, they explain that they had to bring a smaller group and that due to the UK government’s slow and unhelpful approach, they did not receive their visa until so late that they had to cancel 10 shows. And yet they made it here tonight and and so did many others…
If the chance arises to take in Fulu Miziki…. do it.
…I had been dancing throughout, remember that there is a kind of musical language of the body, a transcription of the body’s possibilities in becoming-music and its rhythms and motions and sways and returns. A feeling that emerges in the moments between the consistent and unyielding, through the gaps of the certain and the known… in the shifting miasimic openings of rhythm… the returning gates of sonic dreaming that still connects with older instances of human beings on the planet, older deviated but unbroken lines of connection with the terrains. Feeling and still dreaming in sound of the deep places, its journeys, beings, rememberings and foregettings.
Fulu Miziki bring a great gift, which is free when they play and give it (although sometimes you may have to pay a small fee to receive it) – which involves both their creativity and its connection with their worlds of experience and feeling, but rooted through even that is the resonance of their place on the planet in relation to it. They carry a sonic dreaming that is as much old as it is new, as much from their antedents and forebearers as it is their own magical and brilliant repurposing of matter and material. And it is this which is also so powerful about their approach. Let alone that they are in contact with the wilder spaces of Global North’s cold techno dreaming, but in a real sense, they show that one can absorb what is most powerful about it and yet totally escape it simultaneously.
* * *