Having listened to the album through a few times, we had a good idea of the sounds of the band – an edgy, funky, innovative mix of African drum beats and vocals with the odd shredding bass line to mix it up – but everything other than that was left down to imagination.
We were hoping for a lively performance packed with cultural diversity, originality and fun; safe to say we got all of that and a whole lot more.
A quick shoutout has to go to support act Estere, who warmed up the crowd wonderfully with a one-woman show packed with raw musical talent and oozing charisma, but it was when Mbongwana came on that the party really got started.
Randy Makana Kalambayi was an ever-present bubble of energy on the drums, setting the tempo for an increasingly effervescent crowd who didn’t hold back on the foot stepping and dance moves. It would’ve been incredibly hard to stand still.
On the vocals were Theo Nsituvuidi and Coco Ngambali, both in wheelchairs and delivering rhythmic, floating chants over the sensational guitar work of Jean-Claude Kamina Mulodi, aka R9.
The story behind Theo and Coco is one worth telling. The pair used to be in a band named Staff Benda Bilili, a group of homeless musicians using wheelchairs because of childhood polio who had sculpted their instruments from rubbish and became a global sensation.
Theo was original down to a tee, Coco was downright wild. He didn’t stop moving and dancing through the entire performance and the crowd were buzzing as a result.
Frontman Sage encapsulated the cultural vibe; the dreadlocks, the impressive range of vocals and the authenticity that oozed from Mbongwana Star. The bassist, bizarrely and wonderfully wearing a pirate hat, completed an on stage ensemble who impressed without fault, getting their audience moving and never relenting.
The basslines thumped out throughout, the guitar work went from African style to 80s rock and roll with impressive continuity, the high vocals impressed – even though with the group barely speaking a word of English, it’s unlikely anyone knew more than a sentence of what was said – and the irresistible drumwork completed the final piece of the toe-tapping jigsaw.
It was the perfect party, and there really is not much like Mbongwana Star out there at the moment.
It would’ve been easy for such a group to turn up in Glasgow and deliver a musically sound performance while the crowd watched on and appreciated. Mbongwana Star did so much more – getting the crowd involved, creating a party from the offset and leaving you wanting more even after a set the best part of an hour and a half long.