Walthamstow Garden Party review – glorious sets from world music's finest

Lloyd Park, London
Fatoumata Diawara, Dona Onete and Seun Kuti gave a powerful demonstration of their musical skills on the Barbican-curated stage

Walthamstow Garden Party is always a relaxed free family event, but this year, its main, Barbican-curated stage boasted a quite remarkable lineup. Fatoumata Diawara, the Malian singer-songwriter, was making her most high-profile appearance in the UK since releasing her second album, Fenfo, and mixed energy and easygoing charm with a powerful demonstration of her husky vocal skills. She opened slowly, with solo electric guitar on the elegant Don Do, before hurtling into a set that included the funky Negue Negue (“my version of Afrobeat”), an upbeat treatment of the thoughtful Sowa, and an inspired reworking of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. It was a glorious set; all that was lacking was more variety from her reliable but insistently full-tilt guitar band. The kora- and cello-playing on the album were sadly missed, and she could have switched to more delicate solo passages to demonstrate her remarkable range.

Dona Onete at Walthamstow Garden Party 2018.
Feisty and powerful … Dona Onete. Photograph: Gar Powell-Evans

From the Brazilian Amazon came another powerful singer-songwriter. Dona Onete is now 79 but sounded even more feisty than she did at Womad three years ago. Her band strengthened with a saxophonist and keyboard player, she started with a slow bolero, Coração Brechó (“my heart has become a second-hand store full of happy and sad memories”) then speeded up, performing from a chair but acting out her songs with obvious delight. By the time she reached No Meio do Pitiú she even got up to dance.

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at Walthamstow Garden Party 2018.
Legendary dad … Seun Kuti with Egypt 80. Photograph: Gar Powell-Evans

Seun Kuti, who closed the show, has succeeded despite living in the shadow of his legendary father, Fela. Backed by his late dad’s band Egypt 80, he began, as always, with a Fela song – in this case Pansa Pansa. He followed with material from his new album, Black Times, playing sturdy saxophone and keyboards, and thankfully varying the frantic Afrobeat on the slower African Dreams.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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