After being catapulted out of his comfort zone and into Wembley stadium to support Lenny Kravitz – something Gabriel Garzón-Montano tells us in his 17 On The Frontline interview was both “incredible and brutal at the same time”– I’m thankful for the opportunity to be seeing him perform live. In the intimate setting of Camden’s Jazz café, I can appreciate his soulful sound in all its beauty and really see what the hype is about.
It’s a Wednesday night, I’ve finished a mundane day in the office and I think I’ve caught the flu, but I’m not missing this for shit, especially after what I’ve heard and read about him. I arrive dead on 7:30pm when the doors open, unsure of how many people I will have to battle to get a close view (if many at all). Unknown to the masses, the Columbian-French singer from Brooklyn is probably still really known by most Londoners for his track ‘6 8’ vocally sampled by Drake on ‘Jungle’.
The space is relatively empty when I enter, and I’m glad to see Jamz Supernova getting the vibe going with a tasteful mix of feel good tunes before introducing the supporting act. Bastion Keb proceed to warm up the stage with an avant-garde sound I’ve not quite witnessed before. Slowly but surely, a mixed crowed of well-dressed (mainly) youngsters start to pile in as Gabriel’s set edges closer, and the hopeful looks on their faces suggest that he has for now a small but loyal fan base.
9:30pm arrives and spotlights shine down on the ‘Jardin’ (the small stage is dressed in flowers), as Gabriel enters with his drummer. A genuine smile covers the singer’s face as he takes in the gathered crowd, as if he can’t quite conceal his gratitude – a modesty and innocence reflective of a man who clearly doesn’t recognise just how talented he is. My opinion takes a turn, however, as he jumps right into ‘Trial’ and the flawless voice we all recognise floods the room, nothing but energy and confidence in his demeanour. Gabriel can’t help but grin as the beat picks up and he runs into ‘Sour Mango’, and I’m not surprised to find that I much prefer the live version.
The entire set pretty much goes on like this, with Gabriel at his keyboard performing a perfect mix of both mellow and uplifting songs from both ‘Jardin’ (his latest album) and his debut EP ‘Bishouné: Alma del Huila’ (2014). The lights switch from pink to blue as the crowd is lifted with ‘The Game’, enticed with the jazzy sound of ‘Everything Is Everything’ and motivated by the words of ‘Keep on Running’. It’s surprising that a simple two-man band can lift the audience up the entire time, especially when Gabriel spends most of the time with his eyes closed as he gets lost in his own musical world. With vocals so tight, musical arrangement on 100 and an energy that never drops, Garzon is full of surprises, hitting some funky high notes that give me shivers – it’s not difficult to see why Kravitz chose him as a supporting act.
After an hour of being carried in and out of a soul-infused trance (which genuinely feels more like ten minutes), it’s inevitable that the crowd will demand an encore, to which Gabriel returns to perform the sweet sounding ‘Long Ears’ and brings it to a close. Just when we think he’s about to finish, he decides to take the crowd to Columbia, and we find ourselves singing along with him in Spanish, his own voice now only supported by the drums. Completely consumed by the music, Garzon is out of his seat, swinging his hips and lifting us with an energy that lasts for over ten minutes. One guy behind me is so hyped he’s full on salsa dancing and whistling, and no one cares because everyone is vibing.
It’s clear that Montano is a born entertainer with heaps of talent, but also someone who absolutely loves what he does – it’s been quite a while since I’ve been left feeling an energy like this after a gig, and it’s clear from the looks on surrounding faces that I’m not the only one. I can’t wait for the next show, this guy is going to be huge.
Read the exclusive #17OnTheFrontline Cover Story for Nation of Billions here, and stream or download Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s debut album ‘Jardin’ released via Stones Throw on all music streaming services.