While the host nation to this gig was tuned into a football match, the mainly Latin audience danced, roared and sang their way through an exceptional evening of music
On a night when the capacious Royal Festival Hall began barely half full due to the football, Airto kicked off the evening with a virtuoso multi percussion performance interspersed with his surprisingly powerful voice and a whistle that sounds eerily like a klanger love call. He has lost none of his ability to coax big sounds out of simple instruments. For example, he managed to mimic the thunderous power of an approaching army out of a tambourine. What anyone would make of an army led by a singer who scats jazz, intones candomble and occasionally turns into a human didgeridoo is another matter. Although no one does one man band quite like Airto as he effortlessly becomes a whole bloco afro, you can’t help wanting to see a band join him. His set was short but pristine.
Seu Jorge played to a full house by contrast, latecomers there were aplenty to hear his stripped down opening covers of David Bowie tunes — for which he is so well known — but the mainly Brasilera crowd really got excited when he started to play his own songs and, with little encouragement, sang them back to him with roars and whistles thrown in.
Six songs into the second set, we finally get more than one musician on stage, in fact we get eight with no fewer than four percussionists. The strings were well accounted for with bass, guitar violin and a small guitar like instrument. Suddenly the atmosphere kicks up a notch and the place is rocking and reeling. Adding to the down home feeling was the extraordinarily good harmonica player giving it his considerable all. And there was plenty of guica, that splash of instant Brazilianess, to keep the flavour going even during songs with a funk rock underpinning.
Being the Royal Festival Hall it was to take a while until the inevitable storming of the front row by the dancing masses, but there was plenty of dancing in the seats especially at the back.
In fact, about three samba beats were enough to get the hall to its feet en masse. Security tried to keep the aisles free but gave up after a guy grabbed the guard and started dancing with him — to the guard’s considerable astonishment. The party was unstoppable when ‘Mas que nada’ was sung by the whole hall accompanied by Seu Jorge. Later, when two of the percussionists took up a pair of tambourines for a solo, I admit thinking them ill advised to follow Airto but their tambourine clash was one of the highlights of the evening.
In the short space of time since he burst onto the world stage, Seu Jorge has become an immensely versatile musician who can go from bossa to power ballad and busker to samba master. Which might explain why the loudest roar for sure to have ever been heard in this hallowed hall greeted his re-emergence for an encore of ‘Tive rizao’ and a splash more samba.