It was well before midnight on Friday and The Jazz Café’s ticket queue – a diverse, sexy and surprisingly young crowd – had already begun snaking down Parkway. No big-name American or Latin jazz superstar this evening, tonight was a somewhat simpler proposition: the venue’s resident DJs pulling African records from their crates, with a house band playing ‘live renditions of classic African anthems’.
A mere decade ago a night billed ‘Disco Lagos’ would have been quite unusual, even more so for taking place on a Friday night. It is indicative of the renewed popularity of what was once termed ‘world music’ – a resurgence that now sees sold-out ‘tropical’ nights across London from a swathe of promoters and DJs. For we must now be living in a golden age of the globe-straddling compilation and reissue, as labels like Soundway, Analog Africa, Ostinato and Mr Bongo churn out package after package of well-researched, powerfully remastered dancefloor nuggets.
African-influenced sounds, or straight up samples, are now found front and centre in both the productions and DJ selections of some of London’s best club music practitioners: from Peckham’s Rhythm Section and 22a posses, to the city’s world-beating, charmingly geeky DJ trinity: Floating Points, Daphni and Four Tet.
Focusing on West African, house selector Dom Servini generally eschewed the region’s rediscovered hits in favour of more obscure extended cuts, or else softer, house-y edits. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, swaying gently to a funky organ and synth-led 80s Tony Allen cut, and later jumping around to the lo-fi, hyper-energetic tech house of Ata Kak. Shortly before the 3am curfew, a cheer of familiarity went up from the dancefloor, greeting the opening horn licks of Ebo Taylor’s ‘Love and Death’. The song is a rather melancholy and tricksy-footed club closer by most standards, but its joyous reception served as testament to the music’s engaged and passionate new audience.
The venue itself has become something of a draw these days too. Still fresh from last year’s £3 million refurbishment, the Jazz Café – while remaining better known for its concerts – has invested very seriously in its weekend club game. A crisp new soundsystem, swanky stone-clad bar, expansive but nonetheless intimate dancefloor and narrow subterranean passageways make it suited for dancing – or posing – well into the small hours. It has to be said that the sound seemed rather quiet, particularly if you weren’t stood in between the main speakers. Also, if you’re paying for £10 entry (although early-bird advance tickets are about half this), a £2 cloakroom and £5.50 bottles of lager, it is hardly the best value night out in town. However, with previous and upcoming lineups seeing the likes of Gilles Peterson, John Morales and Athens of the North grace the booth, the Jazz Café and its Soul City/Night Thing series remain a late night proposition to be reckoned with.