sun 14/07/2024

Ondatrópica and Konkoma, Hackney Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Ondatrópica and Konkoma, Hackney Empire

Ondatrópica and Konkoma, Hackney Empire

Critic-proof Colombian band raise the roof

Ondatrópica: mixing old and new Colombian music to great effect

What function does a critic even serve at an event like this? Some of the best Colombian musicians across several generations are playing some of the best music Colombia has ever produced to an audience that largely consists of blissfully happy Colombians on Colombian Independence Day. But before the party got into its stride there’s a non-Colombian support band to consider.

And consider them we must, because Ghanaian Afro-funk band Konkoma were as coolly polished and insidiously funky as the headline act.

Like Ondatrópica they take much of their inspiration from the dance music of the latter part of the 20th century, but with more of a focus on the early 1970s when James Brown took what were essentially African grooves back to Africa and thus inspired Afrobeat. But while it’s been said that Konkoma are primarily in the Afrobeat tradition, what came across last night was their love of the kind of African-American music that used to add tension and dangerous sexiness to gaudy blacksploitation movies. At one point, founding member Alfred Bannerman even fired up the wah-wah pedal and chopped away at his guitar in what was clearly a tribute to Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft”.

When Ondatrópica took to the stage, many seats had been deserted before they’d even played a note

Two songs in, and – against the theatre’s house rules - there are already 20 or so people down at the front of the stalls, dancing their socks off. A further song later and that number has doubled: a far cry from the reserve normally displayed by, say, a Barbican crowd who – at an event such as this - might just about manage some awkward hand clapping for the encore if sufficiently coerced. However, when the 12-piece force of nature Ondatrópica took to the stage, many seats had been deserted before they’d even played a note. One song and a wave of the Colombian flag later, and the vast majority of the audience were on their feet gyrating and swaying to the Cuban-influenced “Bomba Tropica”, the aptly named ska-infused “Ska Fuentes” and many other percussion and brass-driven dance tunes, both traditional and new.

But my personal highlights of this party of a gig were the pure cumbia numbers such as “Libya”, on which the accordion breathed out the seesaw rhythm, and the shrill cry of the guacharaca pipe carried the counter melody up into the theatre’s circle and beyond. Then there was the potential huge hit “Suena”, which seamlessly blended traditional and modern styles to great effect: it was still circling around my head as I went off in search of a night bus. And let’s not forget to mention a hilarious but simultaneously compellingly cumbia version of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Who’d have thought that song (with that embarrassingly clunky “Ya” in its title) could ever sound… well, sexy? Any band that can turn this song into a credible piece of music has my respect.

So yes, the playing was immaculate, the atmosphere electric, and the crowd as much a pleasure to watch as the band. Therefore this was no place for a critic to be unless that critic took of their critic’s hat and just enjoyed themselves as I did. Ondatrópica – both live and on CD - perfectly capture the vibe present on the classic recordings of the style's golden 1960s period available on so many compilations but, until now, rarely brought back to life so vividly and convincingly for a new generation.

A short film on the making of Ondatrópica's album

Guitarist Alfred Bannerman even fired up the wah-wah pedal and chopped away at his guitar


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article


Perhaps because Rod Stewart pinched the melody off a black S American musician(Jorge?....Ben ...)and had to pay a large sum for plagiarism!

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters