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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!






Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara - JuJu

Photo by York Tillyer







Barbican Hall


September 23, 2011


It's been my privilege to see both of these groups perform live earlier this year – JuJu at their fantastic album launch at intimate club The Bowery in London and Bombino, at WOMAD, Charlton Park, where their evocative set brought this year’s festival to a stunning, unforgettable close. So with transcending thoughts of both groups, we entered the Barbican Hall, noting that there were more people seated for the opening band than usual, so the rare allure of seeing both of these unique and talented groups together had proved irresistible for many, possibly heightened by both of the aforementioned top gigs.

One of the best things about listening to today’s young Tuareg musicians: Toumast, Tamikrest and now, Bombino, is the way in which they weave their world into their music, enabling listeners to better understand where and what they and their music have originated from. On this occasion, Bombino’s hand drummer spoke in English of the Tuaregs continual fight for rights, emphasising that ‘guns aren’t the answer,’ in light of all the persecution and battles they’ve been forced to endure. To help us all better understand the plight of the once peacefully ruling, now persecuted and oppressed Tuareg people, Agadez the Music and the Rebellion, which there are short clips of on You Tube, is recommended viewing. The film, which I have yet to see in its entirety, features one of the Sahara and Sahel’s finest musicians, who understandably, has an ever expanding cult following in both North and West Africa and given their recent North American tour – Canada and the USA as well as now,  the UK – Bombino.


‘Bombino’ aka Omara Moctar

Photo by Chris Decato


As Bombino began their set, ‘Bombino’ aka Omara Moctar in lavender tunic and trousers, white scarf draped round his neck, with his similarly clad drummer, set up intriguing rhythms and riffs which their bass player and hand drummer, joining them a couple of songs in, slowly built on, collectively generating powerfully persuasive music which fired the imagination and coaxed the hips into active participation. Though for the moment, everyone remained seated, apart from one brave woman who got up and enthusiastically got down, many could be seen shaking their shoulders and bobbing their heads in time to Bombino’s intoxicating rhythms. Such low key participation did not prevent Moctar from throwing his head back as he played, seated in a chair, tapping one foot in time to his rocking, repeating rhythms.

It came as a very welcome realization that here was the same persuasively great band who’d closed WOMAD so powerfully this year, once again inspiring enthusiasm in their fans, as well as newcomers, who it seemed, given the excited whispering, smiles and escalating movement going on in the audience were likewise, totally captivated by their music. Without further ado, here’s a wonderful clip of Bombino performing in their homeland, which says more than mere words could ever express:

Bombino’s Transcender set consisted of tracks from their debut album, Adadez, stunners all, each shining with their distinctively artful and artisan approach, featuring Moctar’s deceptively delicate singing and masterful, dazzling guitar. By the time their set drew to a close, it was a certainty that even those attempting to keep themselves in check until the main act appeared had been irretrievably won over. Sadly, time did not allow for this, thus far, opening band to perform an encore, but Bombino were nonetheless, very happy at the crowd’s open appreciation of them, and Moctar clasped his hands together as if in prayer and bowed to the crowd as he left the stage, amid much cheering and  applause.

It would be impossible to listen to JuJu’s debut album (Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara’s third) In Trance without marveling at it, not only because it is a recording filled with incredibly infectious, evocative music, but because it was done in one take, with English rock guitar virtuoso Adams and West African Griot, riti master, super singer Camara performing some of the most mutually inspired jamming you’re ever likely to hear on any recording, ever. There is simply no way to resist getting caught up in its’ spontaneity and enthusiasm, so to hear it played live, more or less in its entirety here, was amazing on all of those counts and many more. Since Adams and Camara first joined forces a few short years ago, their first album – Soul Science won BBC’s ‘Best Cross Culture’ Album of 2008, and in the course of wowing crowds around the world, this enthralling duo have made some of the most dynamic music imaginable together. Adams, with his alternatively playful and/or hard rocking, ever resilient guitar and Camara with his passionate, oft yearning, sometimes gritty riti (one string African fiddle) and soulful Fulani singing seem to embody the adage of cultures clashing with ace-symmetrical results. These super musicians always share equal footing, wherever they walk their walks, though Camara is now officially the lead singer of JuJu, the duo’s first real band, featuring Billy Fuller on bass and Dave Smith on drums.

JuJu’s set got off to a growling start with ‘Blue Man Returns’ with the guitar and riti duo, (starting with Adams on ngoni aka African lute/guitar, depending on how it's played) topped by Adams rasping English blues vocals, and their solidly working rhythm section of Fuller and Smith. It made a deceptively slow paced opener, as it was quickly followed by a jam made in riffing heaven on ‘Madam Mariama’ a song designed to get anyone’s mojo working, and shift those for whom expression is second nature into third gear. This number, with its’ hypnotic stepping guitar and riti riffs is irresistibly infectious, and hey, ‘you only live but once’, as Louie Jordan sang. In Trance’s opening track ‘Nightwalk’, a showcase for Adams’ rockin’ out bent via his speeded up, stripped back flourishes was next, and given all the captive wriggling on our side of the house, it is a song prone to earning London listerners timid about getting up an MA in seat dancing. ‘Waide Nayde’, song two from In Trance, with its’ beguiling, rock oriented guitar left room for Juldeh’s nimble, canny riti experimenting. It’s a full on bumping and grinding blues morphing into Cadillac rather than car, galaxy rather than star, desert meets down home thing - JuJu, grooving funk-makers times two, plus two. In addition to entrancing playing all round, Camara’s full throttle, hold nothing back singing encouraged the audience to express themselves further still. But this being London, Adams’ open invitation to the audience to ‘participate’ aka reciprocate, in ‘whatever way that means to you’ was the permission needed to draw many out, not only into the aisles, but down front near the stage, where we could better bask in the funky soulfulness of their inspired set. Which, Adams pointed out, is truly, the ultimate jam, for though they ‘know where to start’ they 'never know where they’ll be going' in the course of playing any of their songs – an exciting element of JuJu’s performances!

We were then fair game for tracks three and four from their latest release, ‘Djanfa Moja’ and ‘Jombajo’, the first of which featured Camara, offering a passionate plea in his native language at the outset, which Adams followed up  with artful bendir (large African hand-held drum). The second ‘Jombajo’, reminded us once again what a sublimely passionate performer Camara is, with his yearning vocals and riti, which couldn’t be as deeply affecting as it is without the gripping backup of Adams exemplary guitar work, which crawled along beneath the waves of Camara’s gutsy singing, broadening the horizons of both his musical partner's marvellously realised musical meanderings, and the song itself. No Adams/Camara gig could be complete with the towering, epic ‘Sahara’, opening track of their second great CD Tell No Lies, a song recreating a sense of the vastness of the desert itself, allowing both musicians to shine like the sun blazing above it. After a dramatic opening played out on the stage of Adams’ wieldy guitar, Camara broke in with sparkling riti, shimmering like a mirage, while the guitar droned on in the background, before the leading riff of the song burst forth from Adams’ axe like a rushing tide, spreading its vibrant force across the landscape of Juldeh’s stunning singing, electric riti and their mutual imaginative excellence. With grooves as relentless as the ever shifting sands of Juldeh’s arid homeland, ‘Sahara’ is one sure fire hit never to be missed. This was a lengthily jam, but everyone listening and dancing was revelling in it! Adams had a chance to flex his bluesy muscles once again, as did Camara, on ‘Fulani Coochie Man’, a hybrid number in which muddy delta waters meet Gambian griot with infectiously compelling results. The gripping ‘Ya Takaya’ from Adams/Camara’s award winning debut album Soul Science completed their resonating set, though a blues tinged encore rapt the audience up enough to keep them buzzing round the CD table in the lobby of the Hall in droves thereafter. Which is great, as their music and that of Bombino is meant to be appreciated, savoured and most of all, shared.

Any gig Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara perform at would be unmissable, but to watch them playing here, as the leading band, with Bombino as opening act was quite simply, sensational. For I tell no lies when I say that it would take some real soul science to come up with a more (in) trance inducing pairing.  


Transcender concludes on Wed. Sept. 28th with The Ecstatic Journey: Music from Around the Sufi World
Tickets: £15 - £25
Barbican Centre
Silk Street, London
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
More on Bombino:
Bombino ‘Tar Hani’ from Adagez:
Agadez the Music and the Rebellion
More on JuJu and videos of two live performances of In Trance songs:
More on In Trance:

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