23rd February | SWX
Photos: Hannah Rooke
Bathed in blue light, Kelela casts a striking silhouette as she takes to the stage, and a tangible excitement ripples through SWX as she appears. Opening with the anthemic ‘LMK’ delicate vocal melodies blend with reverberant basslines. Yet unfortunately the sound levels aren’t quite balanced, and the electronic accompaniment somewhat eclipses the soft, emotive vocals. Combined with a constant hum of chatter throughout the crowd, which persists for the duration of Kelela’s set, the intricacy and subtleties of her music are somewhat lost at points.
Yet in spite of this, the sensual, ethereal harmonies of ‘Blue Light’ carry through with a visceral potency, and the emotional vulnerability of ‘Better’ is tangible in the urgency and earnestness of Kelela’s delivery. ‘Take Me Apart’, the title track from last year’s release, soars with a swooning ambience, interweaved with glistening and wavering synth, offering the immersive, textural layers of sound that have earned Kelela such great acclaim.
There’s a sincerity and humility to Kelela’s performance as she expresses her gratitude, “this is my first time doing a show here”, she says part way through the set, “I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting me if you haven’t been able to see a show this whole fucking time…and so I just wanted to thank you for the constant support and for being here tonight”.
Introducing the sparse and tender ‘Bluff’, Kelela announces, “this song is difficult for me to sing without crying…I wrote this song as a note, that’s the reason it’s so short, I wrote it as a note to my partner at the time to let him know that I knew that he was bullshitting, and the second reason was to let him know that I was fucking with him anyway”, with which she conveys the fierce and fragile spirit that Kelela so empoweringly expresses.
Undoubtedly an incredible and pertinent artist, it’s a shame that the detailed nuances of Kelela’s craft can’t be fully appreciated over the levels of noise in the audience, nonetheless as she closes with the brooding and beautiful ‘Turn To Dust’ and the infectious rhythms of ‘Rewind’ her encapsulating presence and distinctive sound lingers long after she leaves the stage.