Wednesday 16 December 2015

Islam Chipsy and EEK Rock the Casbah at Norwich Arts Centre

Ten days until Christmas. It's incredibly mild, but the skies are just so incredibly grey. Those who still haven't finished their present buying are scurrying around like squirrels searching for their nuts, probably wishing they had been far more organised and ordered everything on-line about three weeks ago. The students have all packed their rucksacks and caught the train home, the obligatory office parties loom for the rest of us, and yet, amazingly, their are still gigs to go to and provide an opportunity to escape the madness for just a few hours.

Tonight, at Norwich Arts Centre we get a chance to greet Egyptian electro chaabi pioneer Islam Chipsy and his band EEK, although for 'band' read 'two drummers and two drumkits'. Featured several times within the columns of The Guardian newspaper, this three-way force of nature (as they have been described) are currently touring the UK, and finish up in London tonight.

First up in Norwich, though, are local favourites BK & Dad, who always produce a blistering sound out of a guitar and just the one drumkit. It therefore looks like we really are going to rock the casbah here tonight. 

Pip and Leo have set their kit up on the floor in front of the main stage, and perform in total darkness, save for two strategically placed laser spots behind. BK & Dad's playing is always mesmerising, but with the penetrating rays silhouetting their forms the result is spookily and hallucinogenically hypnotic - a bit like watching an episode of the X-files whilst listening to Led Zeppelin on your DrDre's. This is the fifth time I've seen the boys play in the last year, and every time I say how it is their best performance yet. And tonight is no exception. I'm sorry, but however good they sound on Gravy or Soundcloud it is still no substitute for feeling it live.


Islam Chipsy takes the stage with little fuss and no introduction. Throughout the entire set there is no verbal communication, in fact no vocalising at all. This is an instrumental excursion that uses the two drummers to provide a relentless backing to Islam's frenetic approach to playing his Yamaha keyboard. He swipes and thrashes at it whilst pre-programmed effects that range from funky Billy Preston riffs to the authentic sounds of the souk rain down on us. At the same time his infectious smile beams down and we helplessly fall under the spell. 

There are more than a few of the audience that are swaying to the rhythm with arms aloft and really getting into the atmosphere of the evening. I'm impressed, and feeling privileged and uplifted that music is once again capable of providing such a platform to transcend and unite different cultures. So soon before Christmas, and so soon after the horrific events at The Bataclan in Paris, one cannot fail to make the connection, yet this is not a symbolic event. There is no room for any of the Bono 'my-stage-is-your-stage' sentimentality. This is just another gig. It is purely about the music.

Having said that, I am not sure whether Islam Chipsy is going to leave a lasting impression with me musically. Towards the end of the set I am secretly yearning to have it mixed up just a bit. Some vocals would be nice, or a bit of movement. Dare I say it, even a couple of belly dancers would add a certain something, however stereotypical that might have appeared. At the end of the day, Islam Chipsy and EEK would be a top-class entertainment at the Sharm El Sheikh Hilton, so much more authentic than yet another Rat-Pack tribute act, and I would buy the CD as a souvenir of a wonderful experience. But tonight's mustard was once again cut in no uncertain terms by BK & Dad.

 However, for tonight, and possibly tonight only, Islam Chipsy and EEK became my new favourite Egyptian band.

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