BEIRUT: At his first performance in Beirut Wednesday night, Keziah Jones moved his Liban Jazz audience with bluesy riffs, funky rhythms and soulful voice. Jones opened with “Million Miles from Home,” a straightforward blues rocker seasoned with soul redolent of the ’70s. Fueled by thick bass and tight snares, the artist’s burst of wild licks on his electric guitar conjured Jimi Hendrix.
Jones is the proponent of a unique blend of blues and funk he calls “blufunk,” but the name doesn’t do it justice. The musician channels his native country of Nigeria and its musical heritage as well. This was especially apparent in the song “Kpafuca,” which introduces rhythmic elements of Nigerian traditional music into the equation.
“We’d like to think we represent the new breed, the new treasure of Africa, you know?” Jones told his MusicHall audience. “The Africa that’s forward-looking, looks into the future with confidence and boldness and open-mindedness. As a musician, that’s my job – to try and express that idea all around the world.”
In addition to exploring Jones’ cultural background, “Kpafuca” also reflects the artist’s penchant for sociopolitical commentary. These views were elaborated in “1973 [Jokers Reparations],” which reflects upon the economic colonization and rampant inflation that accompanied the introduction of the naira as Nigeria’s national currency.
“We used cowries, we all knew what things were worth,” Jones sang. “But for mirrors and beads, they’ve sold us a whole nation.”
Jones’ virtuosity as a musician was further proven when he pulled out his two-string electric guitar. The song “Dear Mr. Cooper” was one of the funkiest of the night. With a chord progression reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, the song broke out into a frantic bridge that evoked the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Jones’ quick strumming complemented the percussive elements of the drums and bass slaps.
The tightly executed quick rhythm changes that marked the concert were signs of a well-practiced band. Jones was often in visual communication with his rhythm section and seemed constantly aware of any equipment imperfections – such as a malfunctioning stage monitor and an out-of-tune guitar.
After “finishing” with one of his best-known tunes, “Rhythm is Love,” Jones returned for an encore with a blufunk rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” a song that lives on in pop culture recollection for Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 interpretation.
Jones maintained a charismatic stage presence all night. His persona only grew as audience members increasingly interacted with the band. He was able to draw the crowd into a call-and-response and, slowly but surely, they began to dance.
“The idea of love,” Jones addressed audience. “We’re gonna sing a song for all the boys and girls.”
By the end of the night, people could be seen swaying around the stage and gyrating in MusicHall’s aisles. Men and women alike shouted and danced as the band went all out. Eventually, Jones abandoned structure and let his guitar do the singing for him.
In his final gesture, Jones sat at the edge of the stage, leaning into a solo, then let his guitar down, strolled offstage and allowed the rhythm section to take over. The humming feedback of his abandoned instrument accompanied the swelling screams of the crowd.