After an August of grey skies, the sun beamed down on Brockwell for the first weekend of September. The final day of the Brockwell Summer Series – which also included Wide Awake and Mighty Hoopla – brought Cross The Tracks to the park with an incredible line-up of the best in funk, jazz and soul. This year marked a homecoming for the festival, which had a phenomenal opening effort in 2019 only to fall foul of the obvious in 2020.
Over on the main stage, the sounds of soul singer Omar crooning out Roy Ayers’ ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ set the mood for the rest of the afternoon as a sea of bodies swirled around the festival site soaking up some glorious 30-degree rays.
Tanhai Collective could be found making a racket over at the Locomotion arena. The jazz collective were the winners of Lambeth Sounds’ emerging artist competition which saw them team up with the Brockwell Park festival series to offer slots to new talent from the borough. Visitors to the previous day’s Mighty Hoopla might have also caught singer Rya bringing RnB excellence to the House of Love tent.
Nubya Garcia played a belter on the main stage, joined on keys by Ezra Collective’s Joe Armon-Jones, as well as a backing band that included drummer Sam Jones and bassist Daniel Casimir. Staring straight into the sun, the Mercury Prize-nominated saxophonist blasted out a semi-improvised selection as a dance-hungry crowd attempted to keep up – truly a storming set from one of UK jazz’s most exciting and charismatic performers.
The heat of the day pushed many into the shade, but Kiwi up-and-comer Jordan Rakei could still be heard from the cool of the circle of trees. Others sought refreshment at the food and drink stands, where local brewers and speciality bars served up crisp pints and a phenomenal array of eats – ranging from Venezuelan arepas and vegan fried chicken to loaded chips and banh mi.
The music came off the big stages too – South London Samba offered a roving performance of percussion and acrobatics that saw them draw an impressive following as the young drummers partied their way through the crowds. Pop-up bandstand Funk Junction proved a constant hotspot hosting the likes of Norman Jay MBE, Jazzie B and Channel One.
One of the day’s cruellest clashes was between Sister Sledge and Sons of Kemet. The iconic sisters kicked off with a riotous set of classic hits, but the draw of Shabaka Hutchings and co. was just too strong for some of us. At the Terminal stage, the troupe whipped an already excitable audience into a flurry of stomping feet and dusty limbs.
Gilles Peterson all but blew the poles off the Terminal tent with an eclectic DJ set, while back on the CTT main stage, Lianne La Havas brought the day, and the whole weekend, to a stunning finish. The South West London native played on home turf to a bustling audience, offering tracks from across her repertoire, including ‘Unstoppable’ and ‘Bittersweet’, and her homage to Brixton, ‘Sour Flower’: Must’ve flown a hundred thousand miles/To get back to Brixton/If you ever need me, I’ll be home.
Brixton – where soulful music belongs
Medya Gungor adds her reminisces of the hugely successful festival
Nestled in the familiar setting of Brockwell Park, Brixton’s Jazz & Soul festival Cross The Tracks combined the legacy of timeless headliners with a range of incredible emerging artists for a day that went down a treat regardless of age, background, style or musical preference.
Following the usual chaos of an August bank holiday weekend, local residents and Londoners alike were appreciative of the relaxing, sun-soaked atmosphere that welcomed lounging on the grass whilst overlooking a picturesque view of the city.
A passion-fuelled performance from Nubya Garcia left us hanging on every note of her saxophone at the Mainline before the masses showed up for Jordan Rakei, whose mesmerising vocals seemed to take over entirely.
If you were, like myself, quite happy roaming from stage to stage throughout the day, you may have come across the synchronised drumming of the South London Samba who gathered quite the crowd and proved that you didn’t need to be front left of a stage to be having a good time.
With over 40 street food vendors and an even more impressive local beer selection from the likes of Brixton Brewery and the Five Points Brewing Co, the festival had nailed what many smaller festivals hadn’t managed to this summer; providing an extensive range of delicious food offerings with minimal queues.
A number of thought-provoking panel discussions were organised by the festival’s official partner at the Black Minds Matter workshop, including understanding and addressing Black mental health in the music industry.
When asked what he would change within this space, Norman Jay MBE responded: “In the world of make believe, everyone is equal. But that isn’t the truth. All we ever want apart from validation is equal opportunity, with no leg ups, just to be treated as the next person.”
He continued: “These kids I went to see in a school in West London couldn’t even look you in the eye as their self-esteem was so low.
“But their story is my story. What they’re going through, I went through already.
“You can either wear the chip on your shoulder or you wear it in a way that motivates you to step forward.”
After sharing his thoughts, Norman Jay took his rightful place at the Funk Junction later that evening, delivering certified DnB bangers until the sun had set. Mixing the distinctive lyrics of Ty’s I Come From Brixton Baby into one of his tracks was a respectful nod to the famous hip-hop rapper, who passed away last year.
As the evening fell, the entire festival congregated back at the Mainline for the highly awaited Sister Sledge who, naturally, did not disappoint.
Taking the time to sincerely thank us for being so welcoming, the sisters quite literally showed off their “greatest dancers” on stage one by one to the delight of the crowd.
Belting out the chorus of Good Times couldn’t have been more appropriate in the moment, before the group closed with Thinking of You, described then and there by Kathy Sledge as “my favourite song we ever wrote”.
While some stayed put to enjoy Lianne La Havas, the dedicated ravers walked through the silhouettes of Brockwell’s trees and towering fairground rides, returning to The Terminal on a high.
Even after a day of incredible performances, nothing could have quite prepared us for Gilles Peterson’s genre-defying set that jumped from ominous underground tracks to funky 80s RnB, as visuals of psychedelic illustrations flashed behind him.
Ending his performance with Never Too Much by Luther Vandross, which came out 40 years ago the previous week, was a reminder that soulful music doesn’t age.
And that Brixton, as it has been throughout recent history, will always be a place where soulful music belongs.