REVIEW: Graceland – The London African Gospel Choir @Brighton Dome

Paul Simon’s Graceland

The London African Gospel Choir

Brighton Dome

Sunday October 7

The singers all originally from across Africa but now London-based performers are a mixed group of voices and genders forming an incandescent line up of  11 singers and their loud funky backing band, again all African London-based musicians.

The first half of the concert was a collection of the choirs own interpretations of gospel numbers leading up to the second half of  Paul Simon’s Graceland, the iconic 1980’s album based on the music and distinctive choral voices of South Africa.

The choir opened with a sensual mix of music of different temperaments and sensitivities, which made the first half a mixed bag, but one full of energy and engaging vocal combinations. Less gospel than I was expecting there were one or two slower numbers which allowed the choral voices to find that special place of emotive shiver when it all comes together and voice, music, movement combine to create a special moment.

This is a mature group, who know how to press the buttons of a British audience and gleefully stomp on as many buttons as they can to get the audience fired up, filled with fun and ready to rock and it’s not Holy Rolling, but more Rock n’ Rolling.

With the second half all about their own special interpretation of Paul Simon Graceland’s this was a concert that kept on giving. Rather embarrassingly I think I was the only person in the house who hadn’t heard, or grown up, or lived with the album. The house was on its feet by the second number and stayed up, clapping, dancing, waving around and enjoying some fun call back and sing-song with the lead singers. It was great fun and I can’t recall the last time I saw the whole packed house of the Dome, balcony and stalls up, dancing and singing along with each other in stage led harmonies.

I knew a few of the numbers, Graceland’s was superb and Call me Al ended the show to a triumphant whoop from the more than fired up audience.

The London African Gospel Choir certainly gave a superb show, with close harmonic choral numbers interspersed with superb solos and one or two emotive duets.

The band were loud and fun and rock, all guitar, sax and drums, a very cool melodic brass trio but no accordions. I was expecting something a little amplified and more balanced in the favour of the choir and voices as there were moments when the band overpowered the singers, losing some of the refined vocal focus; but nobody else seemed to mind how loud they were, so I’ll just park that.  The male lead singer was relentlessly binary, even though a good percentage of the crowd were LTBT+, ‘Ladies and Gents sing this’, ‘Ladies sing this to the Men, Men sing that to the Ladies’ it got a bit grating, but again, perhaps that was just this queer old critic, but ‘deep voices, high voices’ would have done just as well and shown an inclusive sensitivity.

We wandered out of the dome with everyone around us singing, always a very good sign of a rather special night. It’s no wonder these lot sell out whereever they go, the show is pure engaging entertainment with some fabulous retro remodelling thrown in.  I learned a lot about Paul Simon and what his songs meant, which is always useful and pondered on an African Choir leading a packed concert hall of British people whooping about visiting Elvis’s Ancestral home, smirked and let it wash over me.

Sometimes in a show you just have to give yourself over to it and smile, after all… “We all will be received in Graceland”

Learn more about this superb choir and their music here:

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