Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force: Pink Elephant, Luton

THE CABBIE, waiting in the foyer, hadn’t been too impressed. Now it was different when Demis Roussos and Johnny Mathis played here. Sounded just like the records, they did.

In truth, Afrika Bambaataa’s band of merry men do not sound especially like their records, and it would be absurd to suggest they should. From ‘Planet Rock’ and ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’ through Time Zone and Shango to ‘Unity’, this large man’s 12-inch diamonds have set the pace for the Eighties, turned the volume of the big beat up so high it threatened to black out the sky. Being essentially a studio music, there are problems in reconciling the massive judders of electric with live performance, problems which Bam goes only part of the way towards solving.

Right from the brief prelude by the four-piece back-up band, things look like swinging wildly between forceful funarama and perplexing banality (‘AEIOU’? Come off it). The grand entrance of Bam – such a dandy! – and his right royal troupe of camping courtiers sweep away momentarily all thoughts of attempting anything as worthy as a serious analysis of the performance, for the red needle on the brainometer is swinging unmistakeably into the region marked “FUN”. Wham, bam, thank you maam!

Take the main man, that corpulent character wearing a purple velvet cushion on his head, satin chemise and troos, pantomime silver cloak and shades half-way around his face like a cross between Henry the Eighth, Sun Ra and Rick Wakeman On Ice. I mean what on earth is he doing with that funky feather duster? Answers now, goddamit, we haven’t got all night.

This is a schizophrenic show that works magnificently when it stays hip to the hop. As a cabaret electro act, the Soul Sonic Force provide an entertaining night out. When the tapes and sequencers are switched on and the group – there are millions of them – stand in line and chant, the atmosphere is electric, the dancefloor spilling with foaming masses, breaking and bodypopping circle forming in an instant Play it again, Bam!

Strangely, there are other times when this is more like a mid-Seventies soul revue, one with a few problems at that. Like, nobody can really sing. Chant, yes, rap, perhaps, but without their on-record collaborators like Bernard Fowler and James Brown, the Soul Sonics can provide a disappointingly tawdry spectacle. The audience knows it, too, bodypoppers halting like they’ve been pulled from the socket, the noisy hordes at the front falling silent and slack-jawed. And when they have to resort to pulling a dreary ‘When Doves Cry’ out of the hat you can be sure they’re suffering from a dire lack of material, not to mention questionable taste.

‘Renegades Of Funk’ may not have been as fine as the Arena documentary’s version, but at this chicken-in-a-vom-bag disco it caused severe palpitations, a serious outbreak of grinning. Sort out the flim-flam and this show could be a corker.

© Lynden BarberMelody Maker, 13 October 1984

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