BWANi & Friends at Sneaky Pete’s, 12/6/15

Many in the crowd smell blood.

The African influences in the BWANi sound have been evident since the band’s formation, but surely they’d taken on a multi-headed monster in trying to tackle Paul Simon’s masterpiece, the magnificent and terrifying Graceland album in its entirety.


However, a few seconds into the ‘Boy In The Bubble’, heads in the audience turn to each other with knowing smiles – this was going to be something special.

With Scottish accordion maestro Phil Cunningham sitting centre-stage, a tight little horn section crammed in a the back, and a beaming Malawian percussionist called Street Rat, the irrepressible Rory Fairweather, accompanied by vocalist Gill Turnbull, launch into their set as though it was just another gig.

But this was no cobbled together tribute-band seeking to replicate the original.

What we witness is a mature interpretation of a classic, delivered by those (with the exception of grizzly ol’ Phil) who weren’t even born when Graceland was first released.

With lead-guitarist Dan Muir ably filling Ray Phiri’s gumboots, this was a masterclass in how to stage an original show using someone else’s material.

Played in album-order, every song is rapturously received by the sold out crowd, most of whom are word-perfect with the original.

‘You Can Call Me Al’ is inevitably the highlight of the night.

The penny-whistle solo from saxophonist Tom Pickles is note-perfect, closely followed by Baghiti Kumalo’s instrument-defining bass interlude, played nonchalantly by Fergus Robson, as though it was something he’d been doing for years.

The BWANi ensemble sensibly don’t try to replicate all the Zulu words and diction in Ladysmith’s ‘Homeless’, but come-up with a gorgeous five-part harmony arrangement of their own devising.

It is a spine-tingling moment that briefly silences the astonished and appreciative crowd.

Closing the set is the Cajun-style ‘That Was Your Mother’ and ‘Myth of Fingerprints’, the former allowing Phil, Dan and the horn section to cut loose again for some memorable interplay, before the formidable Jack Fotheringham trades drum licks with Street Rat on djembe and congas.

This is a unique and interesting gig, well played by those with a passion for the music – so the verdict in the Coliseum of Sneaky Pete’s is… thumbs up!

Words: Jon Knox
Photos: Calum Sked


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