Live outside London: odunsi the engine
Branching outside the London-centric bubble of entertainment, most artists select three major cities outside the capital to frequent out of necessity. Birmingham tends to be a regular fixture, as its population is the youngest in the UK. Viewing from the outside the crowded oversaturation of London, Birmingham has a scene of its own and pretty much everyone is under 23. I came with little expectation and left impressed by it’s vitality and openness.
Odunsi the Engine stopped by Birmingham’s Hare and Hounds, for the penultimate date of his UK tour to treat us to his soft vocals. The self-described Alté singer-producer from Lagos has mastered the art of the love song. Borrowing the language of Afrobeats while fusing it with the sultriness of R&B, soul and funk, Odunsi has carved his own niche. The new generation of upcoming African artists are always faced the dilemma of assimilating with a more ‘pop’-sounding Hollywood gaze, imitating superstars that went before them. Those that choose not to and make their own path do well; not only for integrity, but for their own aesthetic vision – and Odunsi is testament to this.
The show felt like a causal link up for the Nigerian students scattered across the Midlands. As I made my way upstairs just in time for the introductory acts, King Solomon and Verse Writer’s poetry interrupted the cool with a storming bass. Together they ripped apart relevant themes for fun; telling the crowd to “Shut up and listen,” to the voices of black women, addressing the refusal to change our surnames, our hair, our stories in order to suit the world around us. The front rows were made up of the same black women that inspire her work, leaving their poetry well received. Somadina warmed us a final time with mellow drumming to back a short stint of vocals verging on gentle gospel.
Odunsi himself finally ducked on stage in a glittering shirt and a cheeky smirk to screams of “My king!” from the first row. Demure in appearance, silver jewellery fell around his neck and wrists, adorning his all-black ensemble. Straight into it; the first three minutes was spent with everyone screaming the lyrics to Falling at the top of their lungs. He bounced across the stage so we could get a glimpse of him and him of us, smiling to himself as he whispered into the mic with confidence. Desire had a wonderful way of slowing everyone down. In what is essentially a Yoruba serenade, 'Ma lo sa, omo ma lo sa' raised even more screams from the front row.
Dance Floor was successful in eliciting a jiggy bop from even the stiffest guys in the audience. Tomi Agape’s presence captured the beautiful pain of breakups and being new to her sound, I was glad to be put on new talent. With 234Jaydaa’s mop of braids atop her head and undoubtable presence, her black fans adorning her performance gave me tones reminiscent of Amy Winehouse’s distressed beauty. It could be said that compared to the capital, the crowd seemed more welcoming towards the supporting acts. Usually interval acts are only paid half the attention of the main performer, but tonight were given the same courtesy, which added an extra vibrancy to the evening.
Before ending on the crowd pleaser that is Star Signs, he welcomed the rest of his guests back on stage as the music got turned on and took on a heavier party tone. The night was short but very sweet. And I found out despite the unequal emphasis by the media to look only within the Capital, there is a thriving scene outside the London bubble. From the many acts, taking over such as Children Of Zeus, Slow Thai and Black Josh, to the energy and receptiveness at the live shows, perhaps seeing your fave artists outside London is worth the extra travel once in a while.