New York band Antibalas paid homage to legendary American singer songwriter Aretha Franklin at London’s Barbican on Thursday night (Sept 12th), just over a year after her death. Along with guest stars – some who were friends of the US Queen of Soul – they smashed a medley of her hits including Chain of fools, Think, Natural woman and Respect in a 90-minute, 20-song set. 

From the second the afrobeat funk jazz band hit the stage, they reminded us why Aretha, who died aged 76 in August 2018, deserved respect. They were joined by towering vocal talents Zara McFarlane, Alice Russell, Jose James, Bettye Lavette, who grew up alongside Aretha in the Detroit music scene, and Nona Hendryx, working the audience into a frenzy as they showcased her songs.  They were backed by singers from the London based House Gospel Choir. 

It was no mean feat to step into the shoes of a woman who had a three Octave range and first started singing gospel as a child. It was a rare person who could listen to Aretha and not be emotionally moved by her voice that connected people all over the world. Aretha was pivotal at many of the special moments in my life including when I fell in love and falteringly voiced those three little words for the first time as she belted out ‘Say a Little prayer’, a song that still has the power to catapult me back to the emotion of that day. 

Antibalas founding musician, and composer Martin Perna said: ‘Aretha is on a different musical plane. Doing a show like this is a humbling experience. How do we show our appreciation, our gratitude? It’s really important to keep celebrating her, to say her name, to get together to grieve her loss. Aretha is part of the great American canon of music – if that wasn’t clear when she was alive, it’s definitely clear now that she’s passed on.’

Photo: Michael Davis

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