Gig Review: Kamaal Williams Ensemble presents Black Focus, KOKO, London

Yussef Kamaal’s Black Focus album – with its injection of high-vibe electro-jazz-bass-funk – has already won its place as one of my all-time greatest 45s since gracing this planet last year. The energy, vibrancy and passion captured by the South London pairing of keyboardist Kamaal Williams, aka Henry Wu, and drummer Yussef Dayes is electrifying and pure musical dynamite – unrivalled and a perfect match. So then the opportunity to see the duo live was to take the appreciation to another level.

However in the run up to their gig on home turf at London’s KOKO, Yussef Kamaal announced their split. News came to me via an automated message from Ticketweb on my mobile phone alerting me that there had been a change in the line up for tonight’s gig: “Unfortunately for private and unforeseen reasons the original line up of Yussef Kamaal will no longer perform together”. Instead the Kamaal Williams Ensemble would take to the stage instead, billed as Kamaal Williams Ensemble presents Black Focus.

I had no expectations for the night’s gig, other than the fact, one half of the original Yussef Kamaal would not be there. Sure, Yussef Dayes’ captivating live performances – that I had to this point, only witnessed through ear on vinyl/digital and through sight on videos – was a huge draw. But equally so was Henry Wu. The appreciation for the pairing has always been a 50-50 balance.

Henry Wu took to the stage and informed the 1,400-strong crowd that last year they were playing to a crowd of 200 and now “this project’s bigger than me and Yussef. It’s about supporting creative talent”. That said, Henry Wu and his four-strong band put on an explosive show.

Taking to the Rhodes, Henry Wu improvised before handing the spotlight over to his ensemble that included bass player Tom Driessler and trumpeter Nick Walters. On the other side of the stage, drummer Josh “McKnasty” McKenzie, who had the unenviable task of filling in for Yussef Dayes, slammed it and came into his own with an effervescent and vibrant style that vibed alongside new found bandleader, Henry Wu, like they had a whole lot of musical history going on.

Nearly halfway into the set, there was much love in the house for this newly formed quartet as they launched into Lowrider, one of Black Focus’s highlights – the quartet, treating an appreciative crowd to some of the boundless rhythms that Yussef Kamaal trailblazed on their first and only album.

The captivating essence of Yussef Dayes’s impressive force on the drums may have been missing and most definitely missed too, but what Henry Wu has created is a different kind of formula – new players with a whole new chemistry.

The remaining tour dates, according to Yussef Kamaal’s record label, Brownswood Recordings, will be shared between Henry Wu and Yussef Dayes with new band line ups.

Yussef Kamaal may no longer be a duo, but what’s for sure is that both of these enigmatic musicians are likely to create some enlightening material in the future with their respective bands, if the Kamaal Williams Ensemble KOKO gig is anything to go by.

Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com

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