First published on Musika.uk.com in November 2012.
Dizraeli and the Small Gods
Jazz Café Camden, London
3rd November 2012
Through the chatter of the capacity audience of the Jazz Café breaks a quiet but harsh sound. As the crowd hush, a bagpiper wearing a balaclava and rabbit ears makes his way to the stage, heralding a short a cappella piece in five-part harmony from the rest of the band. If any of the crowd were under the impression this was going to be a straight-up hip-hop gig, this introduction should have been enough to silence such thoughts.
Dizraeli and the Small Gods play folk and hip-hop, occasionally separately, but most times in perfect harmony with each other as well as any other style that takes their fancy, from modern jazz to drum-and-bass to Turkish music. Usually a seven-piece, each member of the band is highly talented and creative within their role, with members coming from hip-hop, folk, classical and jazz backgrounds variously. Tonight, however, the band were eight: missing their violist Jules Arthur, the Small Gods featured both of their regular bassists Bellatrix (who also happens to be the UK female beatbox champion) and Nathan Feddo and introduced Philippe Barnes, the above-mentioned rabbit piper who also contributed versatile flute and keys.
Throughout their whopping hour and forty minute-long set, the Small Gods switched between dancey and chilled, joyous and sorrowful, playing with the emotions of the audience before building the mood up for the grand finale, a raucous and extended edition of the band’s single ‘Never Mind’, whose launch (as well as the group’s signing to Afro Celt Simon Emmerson’s ECC Records) the gig was based around.
Dizraeli himself said in a 2010 interview that “rap is a subgenre of poetry – poetry isn’t necessarily rap, but rap is necessarily poetry”, and at this gig he seemed determined to prove it, slipping seamlessly from full band pieces to often off-mic poems and then further blurring the division between the two forms by spinning yarns over the Small God’s accompaniment. Indeed, a highlight of the set was a solo spoken word version of ‘Maria’, a heart-breaking and beautiful modern-day folk story from the group’s debut album Engurland (City Shanties) which was joined spontaneously by almost the entire audience during the sung refrain – just one of many spine-tingling moments of the concert, along with ‘White Rum’, a tale of love between two cheating parties, and basically any time songbird Cate Ferris opened her mouth.
Joining the Small Gods for their piece ‘Sailor’ was Cambridge-based rapper Jam Baxter. Although Baxter’s verses are as witty and intelligent as Dizraeli’s, he seemed to lack the musicality that really makes the Small Gods frontman stand out from the crowd. Nevertheless, Baxter’s contribution went down well with the ever-appreciative crowd.
Dizraeli and the Small Gods are often referred to as one of Britain’s most ‘exciting’ young acts, and it’s certainly true, as well as ‘intelligent’, ‘funny’ and ‘musically-gifted’. Keep your eyes peeled for these guys, you won’t regret it.