Mapping the Scene: Afrogrooves Jam

This is the first installment in a series in which I’m diving into Amsterdam’s lively open mic and jam session scene. Returning to the city after a few years abroad, I thought, like many, that the underground scene was dying out and many of the accessible spots had been disappearing. How wrong I was. Besides our very own monthly Heli Marmalade (LINK), there is so much happening, that there is really no reason aspiring musicians and grizzled musical veterans shouldn’t play in front of an audience every day. In this series, I’ll be going to different jam sessions and tell you which are worth checking out, what you can expect and how I fared myself. We’re starting off with a goodie: Afrogrooves, a name that really says it all: thumping drums, soulful singing and feet stomping on stage, as well as in the diverse crowd getting loose to honor the rhythms of mama Africa in a night to remember.  

I knew guitarist Mark Oomen from uni and I had occasionally seen promos for the cool stuff that he’s been getting up to. Like me, he’s an aficionado for everything undeniably groovy, with a particular penchant for the tropical. The Afrogrooves collective are organizing a monthly jam in the beautiful bar of Chez Miné, hidden in a quiet courtyard off the busy Bos en Lommerplein. Mark and his crew have been hosting these sessions on and off since 2017 in a bunch of different locations such as Noorderlicht and Blijburg. The goal was always the same: get the people off their feet and shaking their pants. After catching up with Mark, and finding out he had been performing and recording with Afrobeat legend Kiala (guitar player for Fela Kuti), it was time for the house band to warm up the crowd, now still sitting at their cozy tables. 

After starting off with Ebo Taylor’s “Love and Death” and Vaudou Game’s banger ‘Pas Content’, the floor was opened up to the guitar players, drummers, percussionists and vocalists lined up to dip in the cauldron of funk that was brewing on stage. As I was one of two bass players, I was lucky enough to get plenty of play with a host of different musicians, some good, some better, others just too damn funky. Left and right, people in the crowd were finding courage they didn’t know they had and jumped on stage to give vocal performances, improvising on the spot and calling out to the players to solo, to groove and to get even more hyped up. And when you thought it couldn’t get more betterer, there was always a saxophone or trumpet at the ready to inject a fresh rush of musical adrenaline into the collective bloodstream.

Hiske, a charismatic singer led the jam, managing the enthusiastic ego’s on- and the eager stand-ins off-stage, reining in the musical machine so that fresh recruits could stir the pot. We played Nigerian rhythms, Caribbean Soka and honest to God and Funk and Soul, to name a few examples, in a great atmosphere, supported by friendly and supportive musicians. Frankly speaking, if you like this kind of music, this is the best a jam can get. Definitely check it out if you can, every last Thursday of the month from 20:00 to 23:00 at Chez Miné.