Balimaya Project’s headline show left us in awe

Balimaya Project’s headline show left us in awe

Last month we had the pleasure of attending Balimaya’s headline show at the Barbican Hall which left us in absolute awe!

To kick off the show we were blessed with a special poetic performance by the incredible Sophia Thakur, a light and a hope unto this generation. Sophia is a voice of such rare beauty and authenticity, tackling complex and important topics through illustrative philosophical thought written masterfully as poetry – a perfect introduction to the next few hours of sonic delight. 

Led by composer/arranger and UK-based Djembe player Yahael Camara Onono, Balimaya Project has established itself as one of Britain’s most exciting and forward-thinking ensembles. As their performance started, the auditorium quietened down and the instrumentalists slowly took to the stage one by one. Breaking the silence with the soft serenading of a building orchestra, wind instruments, strings, drums, and song, all came together to create what sounded like paradise unfolding. This was a feeling enhanced by a simple yet sophisticated stage design, highlighted by coloured lights decorating the stage, submerging us in sound. 

“This album is dedicated to the deep breath before the plunge, that moment of silence before diving into depths unknown. It is dedicated to the sacrifice that bore fruit and the offering that was made in vain. It is an acceptance and a reckoning with pain, regret, joy, and hope. We hope that it encourages you to take your plunge…” Yahael writes. 

Throughout the show, we were blessed with a range of special performances.

Firstly, the chiefly and indulgent voice of Afronaut ZU as he performed ‘For Aziz’, a deeply emotional song, reminiscent of a war cry. This song opens Balimaya’s album, as Yahael reckons with the death of his older brother, Abdul Aziz Onyeamaechi Onono. Abdul was killed on a UN peacekeeping mission in Nigeria when Camara Onono was 11. The lyrics expand on the impermanence embedded within the name Onyeamaechi, which means ‘Who knows tomorrow?’. Ending on a traditional Yoruba praise singing of the Oriki, Zu extols “Iku” or death’s attributes in a rousing flood of emotion and release.

His performance was followed by a hauntingly enchanting performance by Obongjayar that immediately created scenes of running through a vibrant forest, which Obongjayar characterized well through his enigmatic dance. 

Towards the end of the evening, the pace picked up and we saw members of the crowd jump out of their seats in dance. To our surprise, the audience was blessed by a special dance performance by Oumy Mbaye and Aida Diop, who brought a sense of life to the audience as they moved through the seating area to the stage. The night ended with three more special guests including NUBYA Garcia, Michael Adesina Sr, and Mohamed Gueye. I left the Barbican theatre feeling warm and inspired.

‘When The Dust Settles articulates the central concern of the Balimaya Project which is to create a safe space for young Black men to express their vulnerabilities together. By claiming West African heritage as part of contemporary Black British culture, Balimaya is pushing back against the lazy pigeon-holing of what is the most culturally diverse continent on earth.’