Review by Hayley Clark with Photography by Cath Dupuy

Recent years have seen festivals falling by the by and the big-name players even reducing schedules and missing out years. The team behind Cross The Tracks did an amazing job as they celebrated the opening year of Brixton’s first funk, soul and jazz festival. As the crowds descended on the inner city’s Brockwell Park, it was refreshing to see communities bonding, all ages and races excitedly arriving at the park as the sun shone through overcoming the predicted bad weather.

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Boasting five jam packed stages of live music, panels, a record fair and over 40 culinary delights, a food and music lovers paradise appeared with big top tents scattered around the enclosed field with the huge main stage at the bottom of the hill, the expected 15,000 crowd were certainly in for a treat.

From sweet reggae beats on the Sun Splash stage with Dawn Penn, the crowd swayed as she treated them to a melodic vibe which included her smash ‘No No No’ to the cool kids hanging out at Ghost Notes and Freight Place, there was something for everyone on the smaller stages. Awash with a magnitude of upcoming talent from names like Eliza, Nubya Garcia and Oscar Jerome the park was rocking with the sounds of neo soul and jazz to loud cheers from the crowd. DJ legends Jazzie B and Norman Jay played smooth beats to their adoring audiences whilst homegrown talent Joel Culpepper had the crowd going wild, his soulful voice like a young Sam Cooke left the audience captivated by his energetic performance reminiscent of James Brown, his stage presence is amazing and is one to definitely catch when he is next in town.

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Having to schedule a festival with different musical genres is probably no easy task, however Cross The tracks pulled out all the stops to ensure this was a huge success from Jordan Rakei’s jazz infused 45 minute set funking the crowd to Washington DC’s R&B legends The Blackbyrds’ soul infused smooth vocals and crowd sing-a-long of favourites like ‘Walking In Rhythm’ and swapping the lyrics to ‘Rock Creek Park’ to ‘Brockwell Park’ smiles beamed from the crowd grooving and shuffling in the sunshine.

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At 77 years of age Motown legend Martha Reeves was on fine form, joking with the crowd and thanking them for coming declaring without them she wouldn’t be performing still and giving thanks to her two sisters on stage. Their sparkly outfits and Motown shuffling brought the older crowd members back to their youth and treated the younger members to some classic nostalgia as they wiggled their hips and fingers on stage. With a tribute to Marvin Gaye who they originally played alongside with ‘What’s Going On’ before exploding into ‘Heatwave’ and ‘Nowhere To Run’ the crowd joyfully sang along as the three sisters hit all the high notes to huge cheers. “I said this in the Vietnam War” Martha declared “and then the Korean war, and I need all your help as I think I’m not loud enough, so if you sing along with me he may hear me this time” before bursting into 1966 hit ‘Jimmy Mack’. As the classic came to an end she promisingly quipped “did you see him walk through, a short guy in tartan? Did he hear us? Did he come back?… I don’t think he’s ever gonna come back if he didn’t now” receiving a rapturous applause from the crowd as they left the stage.

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With their Jazz fused electronica sounds The Comet Is Coming cranked the volume up to wake up the crowd, Betamax and Danalogue boosting the volume with the sultry sounds of Shabaka’s sax flowing freely through the air promoting latest offering ‘Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery’ their fast paced chaotic set left the crowd fully hyped for the final two acts of the evening.

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With the huge crowd heading to the main stage as the night drew to a close, the few spots of rain didn’t stop the crowd from partying as Kingsto’s finest Masego appeared on stage to cries and cheers from an appreciating female audience. The jazz infused soul style flowed as he threw out roses into the audience encouraging them to bounce with their hands in the air, as they were in for a treat, willingly obliging as the 26 year old’s performance oozed sex appeal, with ‘Queen Tings’ and ‘Sego Hotline’, Brockwell Park began to get hot and steamy as the singer strutted the stage. It was his track ‘Old Age’ however that tipped the crowd past boiling point, his tongue in cheek ditty about older woman and the need for a sugar mama left the female members going crazy singing back to him as if their lives depended on it, like an audition for a reality show like ‘The Bachelorette’ eager to gain the suave singer’s attention. In the finale of ‘Your Gonna Learn Some Jazz’ Sego’s trap infused style shone through amplifying the talents of the star and the diverse sounds that comes from him with his flexible style, releasing a wad of fake £50 notes bearing the singers face on them into his adoring audience they scrambled to get a souvenir of the evening and leaving behind a mass hysteria, both young and old.

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As the evening drew to a close at Cross The Tracks, it was clear to see this was more than a music festival, a clear celebration of culture and diversity as generations mixed and cultures and backgrounds were all equal, singing along together, hands in the air and chatting happily on the green fields the community bonded over the fantastic line-up. Despite the majority of staff having worked the previous day at Mighty Hoopla they ensured everyone had a great day from door to bar to venue staff they ensure the guests had a great experience and the showsec team at the front did an amazing job ensuring the safety of everyone, the guys and girls down there worked really hard in what was a long day.

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With instruments placed on the stage it was time for the headline act, with ten Grammys, over 70 million records sold worldwide and a career expanding over five decades it was time for the Queen of funk to grace the stage, as dusk fell over Cross The Tracks the crowd went wild for two time Rock and Roll hall of fame nominee the one, the only Chaka Khan.

Making her first UK performance in two years at Mighty Hoopla the day before the crowd lapped up the aura as she returned to British soil looking fantastic and younger than her years she immediately got the party started with ‘This Is My Night’. As the funk filled lights flashed from stage the LCD board behind projected a tribute of the icon through the years onto the huge backdrop.

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With no need for fancy stage props or graphics the audience lapped up the show, captivated effortlessly by the funk coming from the stage as Chaka hit the highs and lows perfectly whilst grooving around the stage. Chaka beamed at the audience thanking them for coming out “wow, I think most of you are old enough to know these but I think a few may have only been a twinkle in your parent’s eyes” acknowledging the mixed ages, children of the 80’s who grew up with the catchy disco pop beats and those older who were immersed in her Rufus career days. The dirty funk beat of ‘Tell Me Something Good’ awoke the crowd, as Chaka’s vocals sounded as fresh as ever, the gravelly low notes hit that spot of musical icon-ship you want to see on stage. We are all mesmerised by this artist who gives it their all and then more and can switch from high and low in the split of a second. Welcoming Soul II Soul’s Caron Wheeler from the side of the stage to duet ‘Sweet Thing’, the melody flowed through the crowd as the leading ladies took it to church, Chaka addressing her fans to support Caron in her future gigs when in the city.

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With latest album ‘Hello Happiness’ bringing the funk to a new generation the radiant singer acknowledged the youth in the crowd and invited a six year old fan up on stage to join her after she caught the icon’s eye waving a poster around the front row. With a 15,000 crowd in front of her she was a little starstruck to join her for a duet, she had first seen Chaka live three years ago at her first concert and that began her love of live music, she quickly returned back to her spot after sharing hugs and kisses. The sounds from the stage was on fire with the talented musicians on the stage, the brass section Triple H Horns had actually been picked through a competition on Instagram when ‘Like Sugar’ was released, asking her fans to submit renditions and dances for the track and the powerhouse singer was so impressed she invited them to tour with her, the three backing vocalists gave it their all dressed in black complimenting the leading lady at all times with their range, ‘Everlasting Love’ was an excellent example of this.

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The stripped back version of ‘I Feel For You’ featuring a shortened version of the Melle Mell intro had the crowd on their feet immersed in the iconic beat throwing shapes in the air at the pure joy unfolding on stage, showing off a leaner look in a stylish tassled jumpsuit she high kicked across the stage as the masses united for disco favourite ‘I’m Every Woman’ men and women singing in unison as the party was getting going, wowing the crowd further in with the amazing performance.

As curfew drew closer and the crowd wished the night would last forever, it was time for the icon to bring the first ever Cross The Tracks to an end, after wowing her baying audience for just over an hour Chaka Khan showed her fans she is back on form with her wondrous performance tonight but there was still room for one more crowd favourite as a recognisable beat began to fly through the stars.

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Saving the best to last ‘Ain’t Nobody’ was everything you wanted to hear live, Brockwell Park erupted as the crowd joined in for the soulful rendition, with the biggest cheer of the night undeniably going to this queen, the performance was truly the best way to complete the festival. The rousing vibe of the disco classic laid the magical finale to a close, leaving the stage to applause and claps Chaka left her band to do what they knew best playing out the extended version and P-Funks legend in his own right Ricky Rouse tearing down the house with his incredible guitar solo, showing off his talent as he played the final bars with his teeth, yes you heard that right, the audience were left amazed by the spectacular finale.

As an American tour looms over the fall we hope it’s not too long before Chaka comes back to the UK and after this years fantastic line-up we are looking forward to seeing what Cross The Tracks has to offer in 2020.

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See the full photoset from Cross The Tracks 2019 here.

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