World Music at the Kemia Bar

Events, Food, Nightlife, What's New — By paul on April 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Despite its central London location in buzzing Heddon Street (just off Regent Street), it’s easy to walk past the Kemia Bar, and never know it’s there. And thankfully, most people do. Thankfully because it only holds around 100 people max, and at that point you’re cheek by jowl. Stepping into this dark cellar bar is like descending into a throbbing souk, complete with authentic antique Moorish décor, the hypnotic beat of 21st-century world grooves, and waitresses with Maghreb-themed cocktails negotiating a trendy 30-something cosmopolitan crowd like whirling dervishes.
Every Tuesday night the Kemia Bar becomes the Best Little World Music Show in London. Visit when there’s no band playing and you’ll ask yourself, how on earth do they have room for a band here?” Visit when there is a band playing, and you’ll still ask yourself “how on earth do they have room for a band here?”. Yet some of the biggest names in World Music: Herbie Hancock, Seu Jorge (from Brazil), Amadou & Mariam from Mali, and the great Youssou N’Dour from Senegal, have all played the Kemia Bar. And what’s more, it’s completely free. On our visit we sat less than six feet from Les Freres Guissés and were captivated by their beautiful acoustic “desert blues” guitars, primitive but impeccable hand percussion, and harmonies that the Beach Boys would have applauded. To the side of us a gaggle of Senegalese girls whooped and sang and danced, and quipped and joked with the band in their native Fulani dialect. We thought we’d discovered the Next Big Thing but apparently they’ve been playing since 1988.
Most people come for the drinks and the music but the food at the Kemia is excellent, perhaps not surprisingly as the bar is an offshoot of the renowned Momo restaurant, directly above. We chose six mezze – small plates of mostly Moroccan specialities – between us (total £27) and were more than happy with quantity and quality.
As the night goes on the party vibe gets stronger and the bar fills up. Entry cannot be guaranteed after 8.30pm. From Wednesday through Saturday DJs spin all kinds of world grooves from soul and Afro sounds to house and electro, and there’s just enough room to shake a leg.

Tags: "free music", "Heddon Street", "live music", "world music", cocktails, London, london nightlife, mezze, Moorish, Moroccan