A rare phenomenon struck the atmosphere in Islington, North London on Tuesday night. A volcano? Unlikely. Aurora Borealis? Not quite. A forest fire? It wasn’t THAT hot in the building! On the day of Nigeria’s 59th independence, Osayaba Ize-Iyana – better known as the multi-talented Santi – declared that there would be no tears in the jungle, in what would mark his very first headline show anywhere.
The precocious artist has seen his star rise after the release of his debut album ‘Mandy & The Jungle’; festival dates and artsy music videos soon followed. Two months later, the stage was primed for the ‘Rapid Fire’ star to bring his jungle to London. As always, we were on hand to be the fly-on-the wall to capture what would be the icing on the cake for Santi’s 2019.
Sometimes you’ll hear a song for the very first time and be able to pinpoint the feeling it evokes within. That statement was never truer than when I saw footage of ‘Rapid Fire’ being played at a concert in London for the very first time. The fusion of different sounds blended with the ragga-influenced delivery of Santi and Tomi Agape sent the crowd into pandemonium, moving me in the process. As I walked to the Islington Assembly Hall, doubling as the venue and impromptu jungle, I thought about that video and lamented over how the energy wasn’t matched when Santi took the stage at Day-N-Vegas Festival exactly one month ago. Santi was radiant, energised and in free form, much like the bulk of his debut album ‘Mandy and The Jungle’. His crowd of around 50 people however, just couldn’t match him. I would soon find out whether his London audience could.
As the 800+ crowd got rowdy to the sounds of the Vivendii DJ mixing ‘Goosebumps’ with ‘Whipping Excursion’, I looked around to survey my surroundings. The crowd was very much a reflection of the diaspora that GoldLink presented on his recent album, a reflection of the diversity we have in the capital. Santi is at the forefront of an experimental and emancipated style called alté emerging from the heart of Nigeria. Some of his frequent collaborators – Tay Iwar, Odunsi (The Engine) and Amaarae – align themselves with the genre and represent its expressive beginnings. If there was ever a place for the 26-year-old to venture out to and present his unique twist on every genre, London was it. The purple hue from the stage lights bounced off the energised crowd and displayed a healthy mix of gorgeous ladies, a plethora of natural hair styles and some dope fits. After some questionable transitions from the warm up DJ, the Monster Boy was ready to emerge.
The stage curtains were drawn, revealing ‘The Jungle’ in its full glory. Once purple, the hues changed to resemble the many species of animal and plant in the jungle. Large plant pots were settled around the stage, which were juxtaposed with several vintage televisions. These TV screens played clips of anime, nature and ritualistic imagery, letting you into the mind of the architect that is Santi, who stood atop the stairs. Loud cheers began to ring out as the Higo-produced intro ‘Raining Outside’ played and echoes of “I know it’s raining outside, you can call me in the morning” filled the room as he descended.
Naturally Santi is soft spoken and it reflects in the way he uses his voice, his vocals floating through the room as if shepherd’s delight were on the horizon. Hearts were stolen when he sat on the stairs for his next song, at this point the lighting changed to a deep, purple hue to intensify the strong R&B feels he would evoke. Close friend and collaborator Tay Iwar joined him moments later to perform their slow-burning duet ‘Murvlana’, an ode to the ex which was well received by the crowd’s trance-like dancing. If the crowd seemed initially hesitant to give Santi its energy, that thought would quickly vanish as Santi got into ‘Diamonds/Where You Been’, one of the more trap influenced (think Gunna meets Pi’erre Bourne) records on the album.
He paused to interact with his adoring crowd while flexing his hand-painted custom leather jacket, smiling as the ladies scream and wave. “We are dying here today!” he boldly proclaimed as faces in the crowd varied from excitement to grave concern as he demanded “more fucking energy”. Before Santi would meet the Energy Crew, he let Tay Iwar take the stage once again. The 22-year-old blends R&B with elements of Afro-fusion, making full use of his strong vocals. During his performances of ‘STRANGER’ and ‘MONICA’ I could hear murmurs complimenting his voice, which happens to be even more polished live.
Whether he was crooning into the mic stand, inciting a singalong or giving Diddy a run for his money with the moves, Santi’s confidence drew loud cheers as he revelled in his moment. His performance of ‘Sparky’ was easily one of the highlights on the night as we witnessed the free spirit in his true form. His spontaneity meant that he would go from displaying impressive breath control to busting out more impressive dance moves while the crowd sang every word back to him.
For an artist that claimed to be performing at his debut headline, Santi eschewed the stage fright and was naturally in his element. DJ Ciesay ran a serious riddim in ‘Freaky’, a dark bridge between dancehall and contemporary Afrobeats expressing the perils of women’s intentions. A distinct quality in Santi’s music is that it commands movement, expression and feeling in one swoop – it hits suddenly like tropical humidity in a forest. It certainly did when he pulled another ace from his sleeve; bringing out the irrepressible Kida Kudz for their club banger ‘Raw Dinner’ eliciting a strong reaction from the crowd. Santi’s long locks swung as he danced while Kida gave me 50 Cent circa 2003 vibes with his broad frame.
By the time his last song came on, the crowd was primed in anticipation and I was in the middle of a mosh pit, slapping my hands on the ground to entice everyone in the circle as we prepared for the final act. The groove that Genio Bamino cultivated on ‘Rapid Fire’ rang out in its enchanting glory as South African artist Shane Eagle joined the party. “Remember couldn’t get a 20 from my mom, now I drop a 20 on her lap cos I’m on…” the crowd knew every word as the heat in the jungle increased. As soon as the chorus hit, the mosh pit I helped incite (I had moved to the edge as duty calls) erupted, filling with bodies as the lovely Tomi Agape joined us with the bridge. Santi thanked the crowd sincerely as the jungle experience came to an end.
From his self-directed music videos, to his outfits and even his very first headliner, Santi has announced himself as one of the most expressive yet inexplicable artists in music today. A paradox in himself! On the tube home I found my answer and more; Santi brought the Lagos party to London. The energy? Undeniable.