Friday, 30 January 2015

On Stage: Orlando Julius And The Heliocentrics

Now that all kinds of afro music is hot and happening again, it has renewed interest in some old veterans. Like afrobeat legend Ebo Taylor for instance who almost was forgotten. Another one of those giants is Nigerian musician Orlando Julius who started in the sixties and finally was noticed outside Nigeria after the turn of the century. Last year he released a new record Jayide Afro with The Heliocentrics which surprisingly is his first international album with new material. Now he is touring with them around the clubs in support of that album.

Orlando Julius and the Heliocentrics at North Sea Jazz Club Amsterdam, January 28 2015

The small stage of the North Sea Jazz Club is completely full when the big band takes the stage. They don't need to warm up at all and start grooving right away, with Julius playing his tenor saxophone. He will play his instrument a lot tonight, but will also bend over his organ now and then or just stick to vocals. He's singing mostly in a local language, which is impossible to follow of course. But also the "Nigerian English" can often be hard to understand. Which is a shame because he's chatting in between songs about what they are about, cracking jokes in between. Julius is in his seventies but is still looking very brisky, dancing around stage while smiling non stop throughout the set.

The Heliocentrics are a great band, that understand perfectly what the somewhat psychedelic music needs, keeping songs going forever with a tight groove. Of course they all get plenty of time to show their skills in exciting solos, now and then challenging each other to join in. Julius' music has lots of soul and is a blend of highlife, afrobeat, funk and soul, or Super Afro Soul as he calls it. Think of a mix of Fela Kuti and James Brown and you get the idea. He used to live in the USA for twenty five years, which explains the soul and funk influences.

And so we can hear funky guitars and horns on top of hypnotic drums and percussion, that will get every one moving, which is exactly what happens. Throughout the whole set I don't think there's a single person that is able to stand still. At the same time there's no sad face to find here, all you can see are big smiles around. They leave the stage for a short time at the end of the set and return one more time to play Julius' first hit song from 1964, 'Jaguar Nana'. When we go outside we almost the expect to be greeted by the African sun and have a cold beer outside. Instead it's dark, cold and wet, so better go home quickly and play some more African music.

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