Osibisa's concert suffused with theatrics and laughter was a confluence of instruments, influences and ideas
There's something to be said about a man in his 80s playing six instruments for well over two hours with almost nuclear force, laughing endlessly — it's hard not to wonder what Teddy Osei's secret is.
Or, should we say 40 years? That's how long Osibisa has been around, through times when bands last barely longer than a pop song. Originally formed by seven expatriate Ghanaian and Caribbean musicians who met in London, Osibisa reworked the international music scene with its explosive blend of Caribbean, rock, jazz, Latin and R&B.
This was only the band's second visit to India since 1981 — and as was clear from their performance on Friday night, they firmly refuse to go quietly into the night.
The music begins before they're onstage, their earthy calls and ululations echoing from backstage; then they opened, aptly, with “The Dawn”. Graham Colin D's trumpet, bursting with life, marked the beginning of the evening.
Osibisa takes instruments, influences and ideas from the world over, and brings them together into one magnificently joyous sound. Venerated as the godfathers of world music, the band suffuses the evening with theatrics and laughter. (Whenever one of the eight went full-force on their instrument, another musician would fan them furiously from behind, cooling a man who is clearly on fire.)
And, as the evening progresses, you recognise many of their songs as pop-hits from the Hindi music scene, passed off by musicians as their own — such as ‘Killele' and ‘Ojaye Oja'.
Theirs is a democratic sound that invited you to join in, to dance, the layers in the music seeping into your blood.
All the through the famous ‘Woyaya', the jazz strains of ‘Right Now', and the heavily-Caribbean ‘I feel Pata Pata', Osibisa's music is punctuated with full-throated hoots and calls, whistles, impromptu dances and most importantly, rich laughter — reminiscent of a freedom, a sense of ease and comfort with the body and the earth that we seem to struggle to understand.
This was also possibly why the children in the audience reacted with verve, going right up front, and then onstage, halfway through the concert, and refusing to budge. One wonders at some of the implacable grownups who sat stiffly in their seats, glaring at everyone who got up to dance.
There was ‘Welcome Home', a gentle, enduring call to the promised land; and an endearingly-accented ‘Raghupathi Raghava', in a remembrance of Mahatma Gandhi. During ‘Celebration', we discovered the raw magnificence of the hitherto-quiet keyboard player Rentzos Emmanuel's voice, in a song that blended blues, funk and jazz.
They would have closed with, of course, the obligatory ‘Sunshine Day', if the crowd and the tireless children hadn't called them back for more. After ‘Osa Osa Oh', they finished with a song about togetherness; “We used to sing it all the time when we were very young, back in Ghana,” said Teddy. They dedicated that last song to the children.
Through those two hours, not a single musician stood still onstage — Tagoe Emmanuel Nii Okine and Asafo-Agyei Herman couldn't stop dancing, even as they played their bass and guitar. We had Brown Gregory D engrossed in his guitar, and Boateng Alexander Okyere, the artiste most ecstatic about the music he played, tossing his head as he pushed the percussion to its boundaries and beyond. It's not just the songs that are happy — it's them.
That's when you realise Teddy Osei's secret.