Glaswegian producer Brian d’Souza released his newest full-length album on 12 October under his alias Auntie Flo. It features 14 tracks with recordings made during seven years of musical discovery and studio sessions. From connections formed in and across the cities of Glasgow, Tromso, Cape Town, Bali, Istanbul, Senegal, Kampala, Cuba and more also came d’Souza’s regular Worldwide FM show with the same name. His first foray into the music scenes of these cities was often on local radio stations, and, from what we heard at the live show on Friday night, it seemed like he lived the highlife indeed.
In the Soup Kitchen basement, we were graced by the powerful figures of Andrew Ashong, a British-Ghanaian soul-singer, and Senegalese multi-instrumentalist Mame N’Diack who had been invited, as had we, to come and celebrate d’Souza’s new album. The two artists had only met that day, brought together by Auntie Flo’s inexorable outward reach. He is no stranger to piecing groups of musicians together, as that was the essence of his seven year journey: he united pioneering artists of different influences, with collaboration the diving board from which to explore unique musical ideas to their furthest reaches.
That’s what we bore witness to in one of the Northern Quarter’s best-loved venues: an atmosphere of inclusion and collaboration. So when Banana Hill, the organisers of the event, were approached by MAP, a charity pioneering creative education for children who are at risk of being excluded from the mainstream education system, it was a perfect match. Chris Knight, co-founder of Banana Hill, said of MAP that, “The work they do really is inspiring – the industry of music, events and DJing is often focused around money and ego, but they have created an organistion that does so much good for their community and is incredibly important.” All ticket profits from the night went to MAP Charity.
The first bongo build-up didn’t break until the room was inflated by noise. The pink and blue spaces were suddenly full with a dance floor just as international and intergenerational as the musical project itself. Crouched onstage, Ashong and N’Diack conversed across using cultures, drums and vocals their modes of communication. Yohan Kebede provided thrilling keyboard skills that stoked their fire, whilst d’Souza dj’ing behind them unified all the elements, rendering this ‘conversation’ coherent for the rest of us in the room.
Such is the ‘outer-national’ mission of Auntie Flo, in his own words, ‘to connect people where borders divide.’ He has described his new album as anti-Brexit and anti-Nationalist. We experienced this first-hand. N’Diack’s performance came with such a winning smile, at one point I wondered how easy life would be if one could exist within it. His positive energy poured into the chatter of the talking drum tucked under his armpit, struck hard and fast with bone. Then we were stunned almost to stillness (almost) by Mame’s Song, wherein his vocals took an alarming turn in pitch and he stared at us wildly, ripping a passport from his pocket and shaking it in our faces. I didn’t speak his language but understood, only imagining all the hoops he’d had to jump through just to live and work here in the UK. Just so that he could be performing for us, to tour for a few days, and then be on his way again.
Suddenly the clap of that drum hit a bit harder, stuck heavier, and the tiny island we live on didn’t seem so important as the music being made in the room. It was our way of understanding each other, irrespective of language and law. They led us across a soundscape that emerged from a place with heart. Whilst Ashong’s impressive vocal range and fidelity to his Ghanaian roots lifted our spirits, complemented perfectly by N’Diack’s rhythm, he also took a few moments to offer sage advice. ‘Treat yourselves as human,’ we were told, for only then can we treat others with the same compassion. And it was a treat as well as an education. But where words fail, music succeeds, and there is little else that happened that night that could easily be put into words.
The night was part of a month of events across Manchester to raise awareness and funds for MAP, and hopefully safeguard its long-term contribution to the community. If you also believe in the power of music and creative learning, contributions to the MAP community and its fundraising efforts can be made here