The HiFi puts on some amazing hip hop acts. And Akala was no exception..
Akala returned to Leeds to play a packed out set at Hifi as part of the club’s Sunday Joint night. He’d recently been in the city for the Universal Zulu Nation event at Leeds City Museum and to give a talk on racism at Leeds University and he was welcomed back with open arms. The political theme of his recent visits was continued at the gig, although what more could you expect from the man who took down Tommy Robinson on national television?
Hifi was absolutely rammed, with a sizeable crowd from about 22:30 which continued to build up. Irritatingly, Akala was around 45 minutes late, which was a bit much on a Sunday night. After about 25 minutes, murmurs of discontent were coming from the crowd and people were starting to get restless.
However, all was forgiven when Akala took to the stage. He’s got a real presence; comfortable and confident and you can tell he’s been in this game for a while. He brought us in with ‘Absolute Power’ which, with its fantastically catchy chorus line (‘absolute power corrupts absolutely but absolute powerlessness does the same’), was a great choice. It also set the theme for the evening – fantastic beats but with a searing political commentary. This was a theme that the crowd loved with every song being greeted with a roar of approval. It’s safe to say that the late entry was forgiven.
A backdrop of videos and pictures, mostly of famous activists, accompanied the show. When Angela Davies came on screen, he requested quiet and everyone listened to a clip of her speaking. This didn’t feel dogmatic or boring in anyway; it was Akala sharing with the audience what inspired him and the audience was more than receptive. Also, at times, clips of his music videos accompanied the corresponding song.
The political critique continued when Akala, clad in a military style jacket and cane, performed Pompous Peterson, a colonial style alter ego with a penchant for racism and classism. It’s a clever, witty song that seems relevant in today’s climate. This got laughs from the audience while at the same time being a great, danceable track. A schtick that may have seemed heavy handed was carried off with style.
The alter ego stayed for just long enough, and then Mr Pompous was removed. Other highlights included Sun Tzu from his recent album ‘Knowledge is Power: Volume 2’ and then ‘Fire in the Booth’ which was originally performed on Charlie Sloth’s 1Extra show and racked up nearly 2 million hits. The speed with which he spat those bars in front of a crowd was really incredible.
Sadly there was a technical hitch. This meant that ‘Shakespeare’ couldn’t be performed, causing some annoyance in the crowd. There were then a few awkward minutes waiting (‘Good job I don’t get f***ing stage fright’) and instead we got a free style accapella performance, which kept the crowd moving and happy.
As the technical hitch continued, there was then a performance of a poem from his graphic novel (The Ruins of Empires). It started with a request for quiet and for you to elbow anyone next to you talking – quiet was never fully achieved. However, by the end of the poem, everyone was silent. A technical problem well managed. It’s also clear that the nickname ‘Black Shakespeare’ was earned.
As we reached the end of the set, there were roars for two more songs instead of just one, roars that were answered. Then, Akala had a request for the crowd. He runs a competition on social media to see who the rowdiest crowd is. This pumped up an already pretty riled up crowd, and the show ended with a bang.
It was clear from the whole show that Akala is a pro. He created an easy rapport with the crowd despite coming on so late and he rode a technical problem out with style. It was a great night of politically conscious, grime infused hip hop.
Words by Anna Palmer