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Standing in stark contrast to your standard rappers running rhymes over a four bar loop, Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, was introduced over funk flute and jazz horns. His flow sat in with the breaks and stabs like a lyrical Charlie Parker running be-bop over the top.
Backed by Gold Metal Man on beats and Preservation on tables, You are Undeniable from “Yasiin Gaye” morphed into samba, only to break as he brought in Life in Marvelous Times. Completely free of grandstanding or posture, the show had opened in a rich wash of hip-hop’s instrumental history. As such, by the time Auditorium dropped, he had the crowd chanting half the lyrics and some guy behind me filling in the rest.
The man seemed ageless. He’s been doing this for 20 years, yet still he commands a playfulness that is deeply infectious. Even through the dark lyrical content of The Embassy he danced like the spirit being that he is, and Della Reese singing It Was a Very Good Year provided a breather before he hurtled into Hip Hop.
The breath that lies between seemed the focus of the night, with Yasiin chanting, “Silence is music too. Gimme some Silence!” Needless to say, it took a few goes for the excitable crowd to realise that a cheer in response was not the intended outcome. Then the track behind Love fell away early on, and lyrics were left as bare as words read aloud in a secret letter. Such was the silence before the hits kicked in.
The Kanye West collaboration Two Words led into Boogie Man; the sweet exhalation from which bird calls and whistles acted as the gap between. Inhale. It served to make the booming brass band drop of Sex, Love and Money even more gigantic, before the exhale. Ms. Fat Booty was heralded in by whoops and cheers and The Panties brought out the lighters and, well, the panties.
Then came the clincher. It was the moment of the night that nobody expected and that, in its simplicity, raised the vibration to something entirely new. Introducing a mix of Tame Impala‘s Alter Ego as “another vibration that I like”, the track played while Yasiin Bey turned in a Sufi whirl, gathering just the right energy before singing the Adhan, first in Arabic, then English.
It proved a moment of such depth and stillness, that Yasiin finally got that silence he’d been calling for. And, yes, tears were shed, and some kid scrambled onto stage, running at the master only, to everyone — especially Yasiin’s — relief, to fall to his knees, bowing down in worship. It was real.
Finally, Inner City Travelling Man hailed the end of what had proved to be not just a hip hop show, but an exploration of musical vibration, politics and possibility, and we all left a little humbler than we were before.
Image: Mos Def Live At Sydney’s Enmore Theatre / Photo: Liam Cameron