On a stormy and cold night such as this, the grand old Philharmonic Hall offers the type of warm ambience that you can bathe in. Tonight, a hero of the here-and-now is about to stamp his footprint in the history of this hall of fame.
But first, the support. Azniv Korkejian, otherwise known as BEDOUINE, walks on stage to a large, growing crowd, coming across as unassuming and humble as a newcomer at an open mic. Though, the difference is, once she starts to play and sing she can really unravel and relax into her performance and surroundings. It has to be said that folk music is simultaneously overrated and underrated; while it’s all too easy to string three chords together and scribble down some heartbreak clichés, some, under the tip of the proverbial iceberg, actually render their emotional and intellectual feelings into sounds and words. Bedouine is of the latter category and displays a captivating songwriting craft. She treats her crowd to beautiful pieces such as Solitary Daughter and One Of These Days, with those in attendance paying detailed attention. It’s just unfortunate that she happens to be playing while people are ushering to their seats. Next time, perhaps, she’ll be at the top of the bill.
Headliner MICHAEL KIWANUKA and his tight band stride on to the stage to a huge, raucous applause. Complete with a horn section, backing singers and percussionist, the stage is clearly set to vault forth a generous mix of styles. And indeed, that’s exactly what happens. From soul and funk to country, folk and even a little smidgen of Kuti-style Afro-funk, this is a band of out-and-out players led by a man who knows the roots of this music like he knows the pace of his own breath.
Kiwanuka himself seems somewhat reserved and shy. As he talks in between tracks his words are as quiet as whispers, while his playing and singing offer all his aggression, passion and charisma. This duality endears the crowd to him evermore, and it’s clear that music is a tool that he uses to express the full range of his feelings and thoughts.
This is a full set, including everything from his breakthrough single Home Again to the pulsating beat-driven Black Man In A White World. His voice, in terms of power and range, is searing and sounds as though it would fill the entire room with or without a mic. Kiwanuka channels his rightful predecessors in Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding. He leaves the room having brought the crowd up to their feet and back down again. He is adored. It feels as though Kiwanuka is steadily growing into his place among the best in the continuing history of soul music. And – in case it was ever in doubt – yes, soul is definitely still alive.