Live Review: tUnE-yArDs Champion “Loud Women” for WOW
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London (05/03/15)
This year’s edition of the Women of the World Festival marched to its conclusion this weekend, culminating in a sprawling range of events, celebrations and protestations to commemorate International Women’s Day (8th March). News bulletins, hashtags, and images of Paloma Faith and Gemma Arterton doing the rounds dominated the blogosphere throughout the day, and the prevailing attitude promulgated by the media was a sharp mixture of gratitude and frustration. It’s been almost a century since the Women’s Social and Political Union dissolved, and yet there remain glaring disparities in gendered treatment. Due to clashing working hours, I missed out on 99% of this year’s festival as hosted by London’s Southbank Centre, but managed to bag a seat for tUnE-yArDs’ performance on the evening of Thursday 5th. (Not that the seat was utilised an awful lot during the show.)
Without meaning to oversimplify the cause, the engine driving this great machine forward is a reach for empowerment. And while there were undoubtedly more concentrated, diplomatic and assured talking points taking place at this year’s festival, tUnE-yArDs’ show felt wholly fitting at its centre, insofar that it felt thoroughly rooted in self-belief and unity. There was no overt political bite to this concert, but instead what prevailed was a sweeping sense of inspiration: a glimpse into the dazzling potential that can be realised through freedom and the right to project oneself.
This tone was absolutely nailed by the transcendent opening set from Ibibio Sound Machine; the British-based troupe who amalgamate Afrobeat, gospel, and soul-doused funk to exhilarating effect. Over gleeful screes of brass, rubber-thick bass and rapid-fire rhythms, singer Eno Williams joyfully commanded the audience to dance, dance, and keep dancing. This wasn’t a case of papering over greater issues with simplicity, but instead a showcase of elation and community, as all eight members gelled to churn out some mesmerizingly kinetic jams. It was a true treat; a chance to experience that feeling you get when you’re able to dance like nobody’s watching – in a room of 2,500 strangers. Completely comfortable in your own skin, and simultaneously in thrall to the works of brilliance human beings can be capable of.
Later in the evening, Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner arrived onstage in rainbow-coloured scrubs and gowns, flanked by two unbelievably powerful backing vocalists and a drummer whose kit looked roughly the size of a small car. After the “peace and love!” deconstructions of ‘Sink-O’, Garbus encouraged everybody in attendance to unseat themselves from the hall’s tiers and shimmy along to songs detailing insecurity, power struggles and sexual politics, dressed in tribal yelps and the loudest drum loops ever recorded. On the surface, tUnE-yArDs’ music baits those “quirky” labels, but if you’re paying even the slightest bit of attention, this is music awash with neuroses and 21st Century confusion; passionate rallying cries against the imposed shackles that still hold so many down. This didn’t need to be verbally addressed, though Garbus succinctly paid homage to the opportunities afforded her, thankful for the chance to be a “loud woman up on stage, surrounded by other loud women, and one loud man”.
Even as a male unable to fully process the scale and scope of women’s struggles over generations, I could appreciate this call for amplification, and an expression of heartfelt thanks to those who are still working towards an unencumbered registration of voices. And tUnE-yArDs’ following really surprised me on the night; for some reason I wasn’t expecting the audience to be quite as enthralled by Garbus as it transpired they were. Nikki Nack being snubbed from far-too-many end-of-year lists in 2014 has clearly not dampened the enthusiasm these legions of listeners feel for tUnE-yArDs and their music.
The main set closed with a two-punch of tUnE-yArDs’ most bombastic singles thus far: the yowling stomp of ‘Water Fountain’ and the cascading, carnivalesque ‘Bizness’. The five-piece returned to play the solitary ‘Fiya’ – the only song from BiRd-BrAiNs to get a look-in, but arguably the most magnificent performance of the evening. From a gentle, bruised beginning, the band gradually rallied together, coaxing the song to blossom into its triumphant, shrieking crescendo. The lyrical and musical progression of ‘Fiya’ distils the essence of tonight (if not the festival entire) in a nutshell: banding together to produce something wonderful and meaningful in the wake of subjugation. The amplification and projection of increasingly unified voices, and then marvelling at the beauty and harmony that can emerge.
Sink-O // Real Thing // Time of Dark // Hey Life // Gangsta // Es-So // Powa // Stop That Man // Wait for a Minute // Water Fountain // Bizness // Fiya.
Posted on March 9, 2015, in The Music World and tagged 05/03/15, Bizness, Fiya, Ibibio Sound Machine, International Women's Day, Merrill Garbus, Nate Brenner, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, tUnE-yArDs, Women of the World Festival. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.