Held in Beckenham Place Park, Naked City celebrated communal experience as artists and audience alike shared in the festival’s first outing on Saturday 27th July.
As its inaugural festival, Naked City 2019 certainly delivered. With a carefully curated line-up that pulled together strands of jazz with global funk and a dance music selection that demonstrated a distinctly global mindset, Krankbrother presented a very tight, trendy festival experience that was extremely well-attended for a first go. Everything about Naked City was very on-brand, from the focus on south London talent in its line-up to the neon orange of the wristbands and flagpoles dotted around the site. Krankbrother seemed to have trouble-shooted common festival gripes, like long queues for the toilet, but instead there were long queues for food; not quite enough food stalls on-site and a captive market created difficulties for diners and vendors alike.
This aside, the atmosphere was generally bubbly and forgiving of these issues. Not even the mid-afternoon downpour deterred the punters, and the crowds remained full well into the evening. Acts throughout the day kept asking the festival-goers to “big up themselves” as Blue Lab Beats put it, recognising their part in making the first iteration of Naked City as successful as it was.
The acts themselves were well-chosen and complemented each other. With a focus on the communal experience in the face of hardship (as Femi Koleoso of Ezra Collective noted, “it’s been a hard week” with the recent change in Tory leadership), the acts sought to bring the crowds together with the simple act of dancing together. Mafalda got the early attendees smiling with her characteristically eclectic selection, and the complex polyrhythms of Ndagga Rhythm Force brightened up a grey and drizzly day. Afriquoi paused their set to encourage every audience member to hug a stranger, and they responded enthusiastically, embracing their neighbours and dancing right the way through.
Highlights were Ata Kak, whose standout album Obaa Sima was unleashed into the public consciousness by Brian Shimkovitz, the man behind record label Awesome Tapes From Africa. Donning his iconic sunglasses and whirling around the stage like a dervish, Ata Kak, aka Yaw Atta-Owusu, led his audience in a singalong, slowing his drum machines all the way down only to speed them up, working his adoring crowd into a frenzy. Neneh Cherry headlined the evening, which didn’t initially seem like an obvious booking when compared to the rest of the acts. However, Cherry was entrancing, moving easily through softer songs like ‘Synchronised Devotion’ to heavier cuts like ‘Shot Gun Shack’, and ending on the triumphant ‘Buffalo Stance’. She commanded the intensely complex stage set-up, which included at least four laptops, a harpist, several percussionists and a drum kit.
Given that this was Naked City’s first go, it feels like a guarantee that next year it will come back bigger and better than ever. With its commitment to producing a line-up that doesn’t parrot the standard London day festival, it will be intriguing to see who they can rustle up for 2020.