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African Band Tal National | Passion, Pride and Soul at Café Oto
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African Band Tal National | Passion, Pride and Soul at Café Oto

Picture of Hayley Ricketson
Updated: 12 December 2015
Trying to pin down the style of music that African band Tal National plays is a pointless exercise and seems to go against the soul of the music itself. Being introduced to their playful and energetic sound in a live performance is an experience transcending linear time and structure. What is offered is music and movement performed with great passion and generosity to a spellbound audience. We review the band’s latest performance at Café Oto in London.
Tal National | Jason Creps
Tal National | Jason Creps

The band has been previously described as African Blues or African Jazz, and many boast of their unstoppable energy onstage. They certainly aren’t lying. The band’s energy, palpable to all who watch a performance, is that of great sincerity and genuine excitement. Every band member has the invaluable quality of producing music that at once feels natural and intuitive and simultaneously seems to surprise and excite the musician that it’s coming from. To call it innocence would cheapen the effect – they are a band that is immersed in the sound they’re creating.

The songs moved through time effortlessly, stretching out to hear where the beat will go. They were long songs that didn’t drag; they pulled the spectators into the trance of the music where the beats and melodies could easily go on forever. The blues dimension is the music’s heart and soul; the jazz dimension is in its energetic and infinite playfulness of the beats and rhythm. But though the music is unique, it is deeply rooted in a sense of place and identity.

On this particular night, there were two guitarists, two drummers, a lead vocalist, and a dancer, though more than one sing, and most of them dance at some point. The band boasts many members and the number of performers changes with each show. The drums provide explosive rhythms, producing a lively base to build on with the guitar and vocals. The musical play that emanates from the guitars is hypnotic, changing and evolving over the course of the song. Fiery vocals give voice to the excitement that is bursting from each of the musicians, though to separate the elements of the music like this feels wrong; the sound is a unified whole, playful yet intense.

Tal National | Jason Creps
Tal National | Jason Creps

The band members are from Niger in Africa, which borders Nigeria, Mali and Ghana and boasts a wide range of ethnicities, a number of which are represented among the band members. Their eclectic and yet entirely harmonious sound seems to be rooted in their connection to their homeland and pride in their nation. Even if you know little other African music, as a one-off performance their live music invigorates and stirs with an impassioned and strong cultural identity.

The power of the music itself which spills out from the musicians is matched only by the movement onstage. The woman who danced throughout the songs was dressed in what appeared to be some traditional African garb, and shook and moved her body in complete unity with the music. She stamped her feet, so they all stamped their feet; her body swayed from side to side, so they all moved from side to side. She shook, she stamped, she twerked and all with no artificial performance aspect; she appeared to be motivated entirely by the sound she was hearing. The other band members followed suit and moved rhythmically and passionately throughout the set, adding even more life to the already engrossing and animated music. The audience started to mirror the movement, lost in the sound and the energy of these performers.

As a performance, what the band offers is original and honest music in which spectators can lose themselves. The richness of sound and vivacity of movement keep your eyes off your watch or your iPhone and ask only that you give yourself over to the music. It is hard to offer a critique on their sound which was undoubtedly new to many ears in the audience, but as an experience, their refreshing individuality and playfulness with music will get you hooked. On their first tour to the UK, it is safe to say that Tal National will be welcomed back with open arms and open ears whenever they choose to do so.

Tal National is on tour promoting their new album ‘Zoy Zoy,’ which can be found here.

Tal National | Eric Tra
Tal National | Eric Tra

By Hayley Ricketson

Hayley Ricketson is a playwright and general theater practitioner from Melbourne, Australia, currently completing a Masters in text and performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Birkbeck University of London.