Rowdy Superstar is a force of nature. Most artists when asked to perform a live session grab their band, rather than assembling Eska and a small choir to perform an acappella version of their single. In a week. I love this version of “Breathe”, one of the real stand out tracks from Rowdy’s debut album “Battery”. The layers of voices punctuate the underlying emotion the original production doesn’t make so immediately obvious, Rowdy sounds heartfelt and passionate yet plaintive, and the body percussion really drives the intensity of the situation home. Beautiful.
In The Woods, in my humble opinion, is currently the best music festival in the UK. I certainly haven’t been to them all, but their line up is so carefully curated (The entire Laurel Collective has to watch every artist perform and vote on them), the site so beautifully decorated (covered in beautiful lights and art installations) and the atmosphere is truly magical (actual, real magic). My only grumble was missing the lighting of the giant bonfire and Alt J’s headline performance in order to catch the last train to London, but it’s hardly their fault I wasn’t up for camping.
One of the many, many searingly beautiful moments was Eska‘s set. I couldn’t see her since the band sat down in solidarity with Dave Okumu of The Invisible who was recovering from a nasty accident in Nigeria. Her voice carried over the tree tops, around the coloured streamers and through the smoke to reach us all however, and it was very special moment. I’m so pleased that you can catch a glimpse of how special both the festival and Eska are in this barn session.
PUT ME °N IT was first invited to curate a stage at Soundwave Festival Croatia in 2010, which was a huge honour and pleasure. We returned for Soundwave 2012 with a bigger and better line up – in total there were 15 of us – for a beach party on the Saturday afternoon and a main stage session on the Sunday afternoon.
The beach party included DJ sets from ESKA who played a valiant and brilliantly eclectic set through technical turbulence, Ghostpoet whose was session so full of in your face heaters I can’t imagine what the hell he plays at night, and Eric Lau who took us on a musical journey from J Dilla to Jimi Hendrix. Tranqill hopped on the mic to host and the rest of the crew came out to dance and support. The beach stage at the new site is truly a site to behold; situated directly over the turquoise water, half the crowd is partying in the sea and the other half is in their swimwear dancing and sunning themselves in front of the DJ booth, splashing about in the shallows sipping smoothies, or chilling on the rocks underneath the shade of the pine trees.
The Sunday afternoon live session on the main stage was a very special moment for us. It takes a lot to attract the crowd away from the water down at the beach stage, but by the end of our session we’d managed to do just that. Szjerdene and her band started us off, her mellifluous tones stopping passers by in their tracks, glamorous long black dress and hair billowing in the wind. Tanya Auclair followed with her quirky yet catchy alt-pop and impressive one-woman band set up, flooring the audience as she artfully multi-tasked between uke, synth, percussion, looper and voice to create crunchy layers of juicy goodness. UK rapper/ producer Tranqill quite literally burst forth with his short and anything but sweet set of gritty tales that brought South London to the Dalmatian coast for an exciting, tension-filled minute. Tranqill’s set was hosted by regular collaborator, Washington DC’s rapper/producer extraordinaire Oddisee, who showed his experience and skill as a live artist, delivering a charismatic and passionate set of songs from his recently released debut album. Tawiah and her live band came next, and if there were any stragglers queueing for a beer before she took the mic, there were none afterwards as that incredible voice soared over the site and commanded their attention. For many people the highlight of the festival, Tawiah skanked, rocked and literally tore up the stage (her drummer The PSM jumped on top of the drum kit at one point, as the stage crew looked on in horror but couldn’t stop filming it on their camera phones). We finished with newcomer Anna Meredith, an accomplished classical composer whose new electronic material is easily some of the most exciting I’ve heard since I first stumbled across a young man named Steve Ellison six years ago, and whose performance elicited at least one marriage proposal. Eric Lau held the afternoon together DJing in between sets, and the stage crew somehow managed to stay calm despite my very ambitious programming. Video coming soon…
Remember when I got all excited about Tinashé a few years ago? Well around about the same time Island Records scooped up another talent of equal measure with a slew of great songs named Josephine Oniyama. Despite being the label who brought us artists like Bob Marley, Grace Jones and Baaba Maal, it seems that when Chris Blackwell left the company much of his vision, taste and flair for breaking artists who didn’t fit a pre-existing mould disappeared with him.
I first stumbled across Josephine’s brilliant and ridiculously catchy song A Freek A two years ago through Dom Servini, so I was very excited to discover that she has been working on an album with Ed Harcourt and Seb Rochford entitled “Portrait” due out on October 8th on Rubyworks/Ark Recordings. The new single “What A Day” is every bit as infectious as “A Freek A” and will be released on 20th August. I suggest watching the video below by way of brief introduction -
By rights the likes of Josephine and Tinashé (and many others you can find on this blog such as Tawiah, Tanya Auclair, Joshua Idehen, L.A. Salaami, Rahel, Ghostpoet and ESKA), are a new generation of homegrown singer-songwriters who probably grew up with The Smiths and Joni Mitchell as much as King Sunny Ade or Michael Jackson, as well as the artists Chris Blackwell worked with. The originality and richness of their music is the result, but so far it seems to be proving somewhat of a challenge for much of the industry to wrap their heads around (what some of us see as a no-brainer). Happily things change much faster now than ever before, and what with the quality of her voice and songwriting Josephine is undoubtedly about to make some serious headway. We will be supporting her with the very fibre of our beings.
Support: “What A Day” will be released on 20th August 2012.
What do Tupac’s hologram, Grace Jones and Eska have in common? They’re the three things that kept me awake after Eska’s live performance at The Queen Elizabeth Hall on 7th May.
Before I say anything else, please only watch the video above up until the performance ends at 7.41 mins. It’s taken from a funding showcase where a first draft of the show was essentially pitched in order to be developed further. There is a certain way things are done in the world of fundraising, so it was necessary for Eska and her collaborators to politely discuss their plans and ideas for the work. In the real world she would have gotten up at the end and said “after that performance do you need any more proof this show will be amazing?? No, thought not. Pow!”, slammed the piano shut and sashayed off stage. Struan and Simon would have walked on with two large leather briefcases and whispered “you heard her, now make it rain”, whereupon the funders would have sprayed them with £50s. Well, at least that’s how it would work if someone died and left me in charge of the Arts Council.
So back to Tupac’s hologram. What the version in the video above lacked was the amazing 80 piece Goldsmith’s Vocal Ensemble in attendance at the QEH. “Vocal Ensemble” sounds like a fancy way of saying “choir”, however the word choir for many of us evokes freezing cold school halls at lunch time, droning along (what’s a harmony?), wishing Whoopie Goldberg would burst in dressed as a nun and sort it out. Or something. In fact GVE is much like my childhood fantasy version of a choir, but with added choreography, acting, really interesting songs and vocal arrangements, and Tom Herbert from The Invisible. Vocal Ensemble it is then. The overwhelming response at the end of the show (through stifled sobs) was “OMG Eska should always have a choir, why doesn’t she?!” from very enthusiastic people who have clearly not thought through the logistics of taking 80+ people anywhere. Do you see where I’m going with the hologram yet? 80 power cables rather than 80 people – make it rain Arts Council, make it rain.
Being an icon in the making must be a terrible burden. You can’t just show up to performances in a nice dress with a backing track and a line check, hoping for the best. You have a legacy to create and protect, and whilst Eska is a lovely person, she has done more than her fair share of paying dues. The atmosphere before the show began was buzzing, electric and hungry – hundreds of die hard fans praying that Eska was finally about to step on to the big stage her star deserves. I looked around and did the head count before the lights went down, not a spare seat, and a good percentage of the audience were well known musicians. There was also a woman who had the audacity to dress up like Grace Jones just because she looked like her. (Turns out it was Grace Jones, and yes I am going for an eye test). Perhaps icons recognise each other.
The music that night was beyond my descriptive abilities. Flawless is an over used word but there were none. It was beautiful, classy, and emotional in the extreme. There were so many occasions I was totally overwhelmed I couldn’t pick one, all I can say is that I was very grateful to be there. A teary-eyed Mara Caryle clasped my arm on the way out, asked if I was OK and suggested we set up a support group for “survivors of Eska at the QEH”. I think perhaps we might be better off setting up a group for those who weren’t there that night. If you are one of those people, I strongly suggest you add “seeing Eska’s English Skies Song Cycle live” to your bucket list.