‘Wonky funk’ exponent NAO celebrated the launch of her record label Little Tokyo Recordings by hosting the first in a series of gigs featuring some of London’s best unsigned artists.
The concert was held in Omeara’s newly built 350-capacity gig-space. The venue may have the appearance of a shabby-chic ballroom with its peeling paint and ornate proscenium arch, but the sound quality is of impeccable clarity, showcasing the excellence of the night’s three lead vocalists.
The evening began with the gentle guitar arpeggios and intricate harmonies of SIPPRELL. Accompanied by bass, drum pads and keyboard, the South London singer-songwriter gave a mellow yet beguiling performance. Though the three tracks she performed acoustically weren’t as engaging as those underpinned by sparse, stuttered beats, SIPPRELL’s effortless, soulfully-tinged vocals remained entrancing throughout.
Even more hypnotic was Naala’s synthesis of down-tempo RnB with dense, detailed electronic textures. A close friend of NAO from their time together in acapella quintet The Boxettes, Naala had an easy stage-presence and a warm, humorous relationship with her audience.
Just as impressive as her performance is the thought and craft she puts into production and sound-design. From the reversed vocal swells of set-opener ‘Central Thought’, to the deep, undulating bass of new single ‘Splintered Window’, Naala’s electronic soundscapes felt remarkably alive, as though attention had been paid to every pixel of sound.
There was also a commendable variety to Naala’s set. Inspired by the storytelling tradition of her Ghanaian heritage, ‘Lotus’ opened elementally with a traditional djembe beat that through washes of swirling, cosmic synths slipped deeper and deeper into sensual bliss. ‘Predator’ – a song ‘about being a bitch and loving it’ – provided a darker, moodier contrast, while the lurching slugged rhythms of ‘Seeing with My Ears’ highlighted Naala’s compelling feel for groove.
With the room nearly full, neo-soul five-piece Native Dancer loosed their blend of dope hip-hop drumming, jazzy e-piano and ridiculous sax solos. Though certainly proggy, Native Dancer were far from inaccessible – their unusual time signatures and unreal key changes prompting cheers, hunkered dancing and slick head-bopping. Whether it was the futuristic jazz of ‘SWB’ or the frenziedly fast funk of ‘Love’, the band engendered a wonderfully carefree and joyful vibe, before NARX closed the show with a DJ set that included original tracks as well as hits from Snoop Dogg, the Old Kanye and a new NAO exclusive.
Judging by their exceptional performances, these artists won’t remain unsigned for long.