Live Review: Akala @ Gorilla, Manchester
Entering Gorilla on a Monday night, the place is already buzzing for one of the UK’s finest hip-hop artists, Akala. It’s been ten years since his grime-influenced beginnings, and since then his prolific career has seen a diverse set of 5 albums, 4 mixtapes and an EP. I luckily caught him playing in Gorilla, Manchester in late November on his second tour this year in support of his most recent album, Knowledge Is Power II.
Shortly after walking through the door the opening act, local rapper J Chambers, starts up. I honestly can’t recall how any of his songs went but I remember liking them and he did a great job of getting the crowd going. Definitely someone worth checking out. Looking around during his set, the crowd seemed relatively diverse.
Once J Chambers has finished winning over the crowd, the stage preparation gets underway for Akala’s relatively minimal set-up. Eventually, the lights dim and a video montage begins to play on the stage’s backdrop. Clips of figures such as Saul Williams, Malcolm X and Angela Davis flash before us, as well as those of Akala’s famously inspiring interviews. The video speeds up and the adrenaline builds and builds until the music for the almighty ‘Bang With Us!’ plays and the man himself launches from nowhere, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Akala then continues to rip through tunes from his relatively extensive back catalogue such as ‘Sometimes’, ‘The Fall’, ‘Sovereign Master’ and the anthemic ‘Malcolm Said It’. I hadn’t really noticed how irresistibly catchy his music was before seeing a crowd chant his lyrics back to him. Or maybe that just says more about his showmanship. It probably helped that the lyrics were often on the screen behind him – a strong visual element normally helps in a gig like this.
We reach about halfway through the show when Akala inexplicably walks offstage. Members of the crowd peer over to the side of the stage where he appears to be putting on a grey jacket. I immediately clock what’s about to happen. In the week prior to this gig, Akala has been uploading videos on his Instagram account impersonating, ‘Pompous Peterson’, a fictional generic rich white male political figure who could’ve been picked from anywhere in the last 500 years or more. Doing some research, I find this character has actually existed since 2013.
He returns to the stage as Peterson and starts making insulting remarks about Manchester such as being “full of chavs”, making everyone boo and laugh at the same time. The music starts back up but he remains as Peterson, who informs us that he only gets listened to because he pronounces his “Ts with ease” and has “never been in a fistfight but sends people off to war”. This unexpected moment of satire goes down very well.
Peterson morphs back into Akala and the deliciously catchy tunes like ‘Sun Tzu’, ‘Murder Runs the Globe’, ‘Find No Enemy’ and, of course, ‘Shakespeare’, kick back in. Later in the show, he runs offstage again and comes back holding a copy of his epic poem/graphic novel The Ruins of Empire in which he reads an extract from. In another moment, a clip of an Angela Davis interview plays.
Things draw to a close and the predictable encore song ‘Mr. Fire In The Booth’ sees a sea of fists waving in the air. There’s something remarkably empowering about seeing a DIY artist with such integrity who addresses the important things in such a musically brilliant, accessible way. Akala: a unique and essential part of underground music.