Music has always had the ability to move me. The ability to take my mind away from its physical constraints and float away on a melodic journey. In this fast moving world, finding something that transports you away from things that encourage brain synapses and lead to headaches is an amazing thing. As an 80’s baby growing up in East London, my musical choice was Grime, but that was outside of my fathers house. In my living room I listened to the sounds of D’Angelo, John Holt and Stevie Wonder.
All of this has allowed me to form an eclectic taste in music. Another thing that has contributed to my musical palate are films. The score of a film can enhance the imagery and immerse you further into the story.
On one boring work day, I received an email from Marium. Being the editor of Nation of Billions, she has her ear to the ground and is clued up on what’s happening as far as music is concerned. The link she included in the email led me to an artist and an album that I would later play on repeat for the remainder of the day. The moment I was introduced to ‘The Visitor’ by Kadhja Bonet, I knew I found something special. The San Francisco Bay Area native who was once on the path to the world of movies, had turned away from USC film school, followed her inner voice to use music to express herself and started a musical journey.
Once again, I find myself at my desk. But this evening was different. In a few short hours, I would be heading towards an East London venue to hear the enchanting voice of Kadhja live in concert. Hearing music in your headphones is cool. Moving songs to some decent speakers in your home can enhance the sound and make it sound better. But when you have an album like ‘The Visitor’ which includes instruments that weren’t played via a computer, then hearing the music live brings another element to that entire listening experience.
As I walk into the basement of a church-like building in Hoxton, I hear the sounds of a keyboard being played alongside some soft vocals telling a story about leaving somewhere. “This is one my many songs about finding people to leave the planet with me“. The ethereal sounds of Marie Davy is something that I will need to explore even further. There were some chords being played on the keys that made me make a funny face. This was positive of course. Just one of the many quirky ways that I react to music.
As I wormed my way to the front of the stage, I found myself standing next to a group talking about music. “What is music? What does an MPC mean to Fela Kuti. Nothing. But it still has importance”. Eavesdropping on this weird beer fueled conversation made me smile. It demonstrated the type of crowd I was amongst. Music lovers who had stepped out of conventional circles, intrigued by all sorts of different sounds.
As the lights dimmed, the band came out, after setting up their instruments they went straight into ‘Honeycomb’. Without so much as an introduction, the dark venue was quickly filled with the sensual sounds of the words sang by Kadhja Bonet, describing a scenario where someone’s feeling they’re being played by someone who is fully aware of the power that they have over them, choosing to use it to their advantage.
Honeycomb, drip amber rays of sun, The sweetness that is you, Honeycomb, and I the humble bee that brings the pollen to, Your gilded lips
Without leaving space to breathe, the band moved straight into ‘Fairweather Friend’. Whilst amongst people standing still feeling the vibe, I quickly noticed that I had found a groove in the drummer’s percussion and was teetering on a full blown 2-step. What had stopped me was the guitar solo that transported me to a sunny beach in California in the 1960s.
As the drummer kicked the drum with the consistency of a metronome whilst simultaneously tapping a tambourine on his knee, the bass guitarist moved over to the keyboard to perform ‘Miss You’. It seemed that the band were communicating using telepathy. Moving around the stage without any instructions. It could’ve been that they have been through this scenario many times and is now routine. But as an onlooker, it was intriguing to witness the synergy.
As they moved through the catalogue of music and played songs like ‘This Love’ and ‘Tears for Lamont’, there were portions where each member of the band had a solo. Notably, the guitarist took advantage of his time in the spotlight and played his instrument like he was infatuated with every note that came from the strings. This made for some beautiful music.
As we went from one song to another, Kadhja had not said a word that wasn’t in song. I have previously read that she has chosen not to put her life on display for social media consumption. Instead, allowing her creations to speak for her. On this mild evening in London, she gave us exactly what we came for. Keeping up the mysterious character that she shrouded herself in lyrical words.
You hold me to be nobody other, Than your sweet lover friend, I want you to know there is no other, I’d rather call my man
As all the other musicians gently guided their instruments to a rest position, Kadhja, under the spotlight of centre stage beautifully sang my favourite song from the album. All of the surrounding lights that alternatively illuminated her were coincidentally the same colours as the silk blouse she was wearing. It’s as if they knew this would be when my attention would be at its highest intensity. ‘Nobody Other’ is a wonderful ode to her beloved. A declaration of the sacrifice that she is willing to give for the love of this significant other. Even with the omission of some of the instrumentation from the studio version, Kadhja stood alone and produced sounds with both her guitar and her voice that made me close my eyes and tilt my head to the side. I quickly became aware of my surroundings and reduced the volume of my voice to a whisper as I sang along.
I snapped back into reality as the band went into a jam session. As Kadhja freed the microphone from the stand and allowed her guitar to hang from her shoulders as she sang a song of adventure and love.
Then the band moved into ‘San Francisco’, Kadhja was seen looking into the eyes of her fellow guitarist as she dictated the tempo of the song that George Clooney would be happy with listening to as he floated away into the depths of space in Gravity. The tremolo-bar warble of the guitar made my ear drums flutter while Bonet used her voice to control pitch and create a vibe which captured everyone in the room.
During the show, there were some technical difficulties. Even when fighting against the unexplained feedback thundering through the speakers, Kadhja eloquently used her voice to overpower the annoyance and shine through during ‘The Visitor’.
As well as playing songs from her album, there were songs performed with the band that often resulted with everyone smiling with each other. The music was played with finesse and enthusiasm. You could tell that even though this wasn’t one of their own songs, the love they have for playing the music they adore was what brought them to become musicians in their own right.
One of the few times we actually heard Kadhja’s speaking voice was when she introduced one of her favourite songs to sing. Singing a cover of ‘Remember The Rain’ almost entirely with her eyes closed, she drifted away from this hot room and went to a place which allowed her voice to transcend through the audience and encapsulate us in a bubble of bliss.
Once the song was finished, Kadhja said goodbye and followed her band off stage. The rapturous applause which followed filled the room and resulted in a change of heart. Kadhja returned to the stage with a bright smile on her face. “I think I can get a sun-tan up here” she professed and then went on to mention her guitarist wanted to play a Beatles song.
As they faced each other, he knelt down to play the bass guitar as Kadhja sang ‘Yesterday’ as orange and pink lights dressed the stage. This was an amazing twist on an encore performance.
As Kadhja sheepishly smiled at the crowd who gave up another worthy round of applause, she once again said goodbye and disappeared behind the dark curtains. As I quickly made my way to the merchandise stand to add another album to my small but growing record collection, I looked around and noticed that nobody was on their phone. In fact, throughout the show, there wasn’t the usual sight of many brightly lit screens capturing 30-seconds of performances. It seemed that the majority of people chose to be immersed in the sound waves being created in front of their very eyes and ears.
‘The Visitor’ is an amazing body of musical enchantment. After removing the plastic from the record to get a close look, I learned that every song was written and arranged by Kadhja. Once again proving the depths of musical knowledge she possesses and has chosen to create soundtracks that allow listeners to forget about where they are and float away on a musical journey.
Read more about Kadhja Bonet in our exclusive #17OnTheFrontline Cover Story here: