Hosted by Cerys Matthews MBE, the 2017 edition of On Mass was a celebration of differing styles of music from across the globe, with performances from over 180 young musicians and performing artists including Nordic house from the Faroe Islands, Circo Voador from Brazil, Dharavi Rocks from India, the Palestinian Circus School, Modo from Scotland and London-based acts the Roundhouse Music Collective, Audio Collective, the Roundhouse Choir, the Street Circus Collective, Breakin’ Convention, Beatbox Academy and Kinetica Bloco. The evening seamlessly whirls between big band numbers to beat-boxing, from choral renditions to afro-funk to electronica. Even more remarkably, the music often weaves all the above styles into medleys – which is both a blessing to a listener and a curse to a reviewer trying to describe such intricate collaborations.
The evening was spear-headed by three-times Grammy winner Anjélique Kidjo (pictured above), who utilised the immense range of young musical performers to help her to perform a number of her own songs, like recent single ‘Kelele’, alongside classics such as Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. The inclusion of an award-winning, established musician such as Kidjo could detract from the attention duly deserved by the young performers, but Kidjo did a fantastic job of maintaining the focus of the concert on the young performers and the music, never letting herself become the centre of the show. She was often funny (dismissing the idea of Brexit and its place within music with a smile on her face), inclusive (I often found myself being encouraged to, and perhaps being too enthusiastic in doing so, sing along to her songs, in what was probably to the detriment of members of the crowd around me), and always drawing attention back to her joint performers.
What became increasingly clearer as the evening unfolded, was that this evening was not solely a celebration of music. It was a celebration of all aspects of performances – like the moving solo dance piece performed by Marah Ashmar, which was revealed to originally have been a pas de deux, but had to be modified when Ashmar’s dance partner was refused a visa for the performance. The obvious emotional impact that this reveal had on the crowd is testament to the strength of the show’s message – in a collaboration that emphasised the power of unity, cooperation, youth, and music, the determination to put on a performance in the face of geo-political resistance and borders was sincere and resounding.
To further the emphasis on creating a spectacle that was innovative throughout, it is interesting to note the choreography and overall layout of the show. With the majority of the crowd standing in the centre of the Roundhouse, the performers could perform from three angles within the round (pictured below), allowing for both smooth transitions between songs which would otherwise have been difficult to achieve, but also adding to the cohesion between the different artists and groups – whilst one band could be playing to your right, they would be being cheered on from artists on your left. With the artists bouncing off each other, the echoes of what this night was about never fell silent.
The standout performance of the show was, quite naturally, the finale. With a whole ensemble rendition of ‘Move on Up’ by Curtis Mayfield, the set ended with a big-band flash-mob carnival performed by the irrepressible and exuberant Kinetica Bloco encompassing the entrance hall of the Roundhouse.
In celebrating the coming-together of music, culture, and friendship, by the end there was no longer a distinction between performers and audience; just an all-inclusive spectacle to which all were contributing. This was not just a celebration of music. It was a celebration of celebrating.